Arts and Entertainment

STC Takes On a Classic Thriller In “Wait Until Dark”

Review of STC’s 2019 Winter Drama, “Wait Until Dark.”

Reading Time: 4 minutes

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By Zoe Oppenheimer

A thriller with a small cast isn’t the typical choice for a high school theater company. Pulling off a script with multiple long silences, a heavy focus on lighting, characters-within-characters, and a protagonist with a disability is a big task for any theater company. However, STC’s production of Frederick Knott’s 1966 play “Wait Until Dark,” produced by sophomores Vicy Shiu and Raisa Amin, junior Mina Ivkovic, and senior Slate member Boxuan Wu, was undoubtedly an example of Stuyvesant’s theater community at its best.

The play, directed by sophomore Jonathan Schneiderman, junior Victoria Wong, and freshman Ashley Choi, opens on a typical apartment. The walls are a pale blue and lined with simple furniture and household appliances, and two strings of black-and-white photographs hang above a desk with a lamp on it. Two con men (sophomore Julian Cunningham and senior Kathryn Jano), whose real names we never learn, enter. Through casual conversation—carried out effortlessly by Cunningham and Jano—the pair reveal that they’re former partners-in-crime (literally), both having recently been released from prison and summoned to the apartment by a mysterious phone call promising an opportunity for easy cash. They each assume the call came from the other. Then, they realize that it came from an old friend and fellow criminal, Lisa. The plot only takes off, however, when senior Kareena Singh enters as the terrifyingly nonchalant mastermind, Roat. Roat gloatingly reveals that after Lisa told her everything about the con men—whom she refers to as “Mike Talman” (Cunningham) and “Sergeant Carlino” (Jano)—she killed her and left her body in the bedroom. Now, in order to make their money and avoid being framed for Lisa’s murder, the duo has to do a job for her: the following night, the three must manipulate the woman who lives in the apartment into willingly giving them a doll. Susy’s husband unknowingly delivered the doll to the United States and stashed it in their apartment, so neither Sam (junior Cosmo Coen) nor Susy knows it’s filled with heroin. What ensues is a battle of wits between three experienced criminals and one blind woman (Susy) in an unlikely alliance with the stubborn little girl in the upstairs apartment.

Roat’s elaborate plan makes for a complicated storyline filled with plot twists, secret identities, scheming, and betrayal from all parties. In spite of this and the quick pace, the play was never too hard to follow. Junior Alex Nobert was engaging in her role as Susy Hendrix—the ordinary woman whose brilliance and bravery fuel the show. Susy’s disability came off as natural, as did her relationships with the other characters—from Gloria (freshman Jasmine Wang), the little girl upstairs, to her husband Sam, to “Mike,” who pretends to be her ally to gain her trust. Nobert portrays Susy as emotional and calculating as she’s meant to be.

Another notable performance was Singh’s, which single-handedly doubled the (deliberately) uncanny energy onstage. This happened from her first entrance to the play’s dramatic climax when Roat and Susy finally come face-to-face. Clad in a long jacket and glasses, Roat frequently tells stories backwards and speaks to the two young con men like a narrator with an unsettling knowledge of their lives. What could have easily been a cringeworthy or confusing role was made into an entertaining and vital one by Singh, who unleashed more villainous energy with every line.

In the entirely non-villainous role of Gloria, Wang brought a mix of childlike innocence and angst to the show. By far the youngest character and the person with the least knowledge of the scandal unfolding in her neighbors’ apartment, Gloria is the light in a decidedly dark show, at one point exclaiming brightly: “Gee, I wish something like this would happen every day!” Wang portrayed Gloria equally well earlier on in the show during her rapidly escalated fight with Susy and subsequent tantrum—when she reveals how her father left her mother after nearly smashing every “unbreakable” object in their house. Gloria and Susy’s relationship goes from deeply strained to affectionate and understanding as the two join forces against the criminals threatening Susy’s life. Their partnership was as interesting and fun to watch as the mind-bending plotline itself.

Working alongside a solid cast, the backstage crews pulled the show together. About a week before the show, the stage lights broke, giving the lighting designers little time to come up with a solution. The appropriately eerie backlighting was produced by seven lamps (creating the first STC show lit by lamps alone is not small feat). On top of this, the set had a professional quality that’s rare in most high school productions, thanks to its realistic appearance and attention to detail. The apartment the crew built onstage is more than a background; it’s the setup for a mystery and an intense search for an object hidden somewhere in the room. Essentially, the play revolves around the set and placement of various props, so the illusion of a real apartment was necessary to pull off any production of “Wait Until Dark” worth watching.

In keeping with the acting and tech crews, the direction shone throughout the play. Even in moments when those onstage are working in silence—in near total darkness—or going to absurd lengths to disguise themselves from Susy as she stands a few feet away from them, the energy onstage is present, and the audience is captivated. Roat and Susie’s fight scene, which Susie only narrowly survives, was executed by both actresses without feeling stilted or awkward.

Being a thriller with many scenes that are not typically seen onstage, strong direction could not have been more crucial to keep the plot unfolding, even without dialogue or an easy visual. The pacing, another vital element for this particular play, also never lacked. Both the backstage crews and the cast came through to make this funny, sometimes disturbing, but ultimately fascinating and heartfelt play an absolute success.