Geffen's new production of the thriller Wait Until Dark is a great play for young people because they'll be scared--and that's not something they expect a live show to be able to do. Without giving much away, this play has about the best cat-and-mouse climax of any thriller, and Matt Shakman's direction worked, we know, because of the gasps and shrieks in the audience. Even if you've seen the Audrey Hepburn film or a prior production of the play, this tense production will make you feel the thrills all over again.
What makes this play rise above the usual thriller fare is the multiple conflicts the writer Frederick Knott invents. At the center is a blind woman terrorized in her basement apartment by three criminals. And Knott writes fights among the criminals too. There's doubt and mistrust between the blind woman and her husband. And then there is that unpredictable teen neighbor girl.
This production backdates matters, courtesy of an "adaptation" from Jeffrey Hatcher, from the 1960's of Knott's original to the 1940's, which for my taste muddies things up with an unnecessarily complicated backstory. Anecdotally, the people behind me were talking through the play to try to figure it out - who's the war buddy, who's on leave and needs their photo taken, and so on. Also, the drug-fueled urban crime of Knott's 1960's original is more frightening then Hatcher's gentlemanly diamond heist of the 1940's (Hatcher used to write for Columbo, so the cozy mystery genre may be his preference). The show also works better without deflating the tension, as this production does, with an intermission. Like any thriller, suspense is partly created through implausibilities, and it's better for the audience to wonder about those during the drive home than returning to a state of disbelief during intermission.
So, how's the blind woman? It's a great role: Academy Award nomination for Audrey Hepburn and Tony Award nomination for Lee Remick in the original play. In this production, Alison Pill nails the role; she's vulnerable and naïve yet plausibly grows in strength and cunning. The lead criminal comes to horrible life through Adam Stein's inspired and creepy performance - if only he'd remembered about that darn squeaky shoe.
Wait Until Dark at the Gil Cates Theater at the Geffen Playhouse. October 16 to November 17, 2013. Tickets are available in-person at the Geffen Playhouse box office, via phone at 310-208-5454 or online at www.geffenplayhouse.com.