A young, attractive married woman named Susy Hendrix was recently blinded in an accident, and is still learning to navigate. Husband Sam is supportive but insists that she learn to be self-reliant, in the best “If I teach you to fish....” tradition. He doesn't want her to be dependent on a man (or anyone else) to survive. Before the final curtain drops, Sam's respect, and refusal to treat his wife as helpless or handicapped, will help her save her own life. Without knowing it, he has prepared her to handle an unforeseen ordeal. Generally promoted as a thriller, Wait Until Dark, has much to say about women in a patriarchal culture, that keeps them naïve and defenseless, while men exploit their trust.
Appropriately, the triggering incident of Wait Until Dark is the loss of a doll, that's being used to smuggle heroin. Of course, neither Susy nor Sam know this, or that three small-time criminals have concocted an elaborate ruse to get the doll back, after a female stranger gives it to Sam for safe keeping. They are not counting on Susy's keen intelligence and sharp ability to notice what others miss. As it begins to dawn that the parade of men coming to her apartment are not what they seem, Susy enlists the help of neighbor girl, Gloria. The story builds to a visceral, chilling, enervating scene that plays out in pitch darkness, with just enough lapses of illumination to keep us on tenterhooks.
If there were any doubt about playwright Frederick Knott's feminist subtext, it evaporates when sociopath “Harry Roat, Jr” (an alias) tells her that “arrogant girls must be punished.” In his mind, any response by women, other than fealty and submission, amounts to hubris. There is much to suggest that Susy's blindness is a metaphor for the subjugation of women in American society. To subdue them, women must kept in the dark, regarding the shadowy side of life, including men's more sinister motives. Susy is far more comfortable when the lights are out, the realm where women conceivably wield the most leverage. Knott evinces a wicked sense of irony when Susy forces Roat to reverse roles : she holding a match while he must keep tap-tap-tapping in the dense blackness.
Scenic Designer Rodney Dobbs has fashioned a detailed, evocative set, just drab enough to be feel ominous and somber. Director Sharon Benge keeps the plot moving and taut, though I'm not sure the alarming musical cues add much. (I wouldn't necessarily say they detract.) Ian Mead Moore is compelling and intriguing as the stalwart, phantom husband, Sam. Bill Jenkins is creepy and fierce as Harry Roat Jr. Krishna Smitha is deeply affecting, engaging and capable as the resourceful, heroic Susy, who has the delicious audacity to bite The Big Bad Wolf.
Contemporary Theatre of Dallas presents Wait Until Dark, playing through September 7th, 2014. 5601 Sears Street, Dallas, Texas 75206. 214-828-0094. www.contemporarytheatreofdallas.com