Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Wait Until Dark
Hale Centre Theatre
Review by Gil Benbrook

Also see Gil's recent reviews of The Mad Ones, Exit Laughing and Five Guys Named Moe

David Michael Paul and Juli Buehrle
Photo by Nick Woodward-Shaw
While Hale Centre Theatre is known for presenting some of the best musical theatre productions in the Phoenix area, they have also presented superb back-to-back thrillers this summer. A few months ago, their production of the Agatha Christie thriller And Then There Were None was exceptional and their current production of the suspenseful play Wait Until Dark is just as good. With an excellent cast, spotless direction, and an immersive set design, it makes for a spine-tingling good time.

Frederick Knott's play is set in a New York City Greenwich Village basement apartment in the 1960s and centers on Susy Hendrix, a young blind woman who has an unfortunate encounter with three criminals who are hunting for a doll filled with drugs that they believe is in her apartment. The doll was innocently brought to New York from Canada by Susy's husband Sam as a favor for a woman he met at the airport who said the doll was for a sick girl and that someone would come to his apartment to pick it up. Sam and Susy have no idea that the doll is stuffed with heroin, that the person who was picking up the doll has been murdered, or that a sociopathic killer and two small-time, recently paroled con artists are planning to do whatever necessary to get the doll from them. When the doll goes missing, it sets in motion a plot for the criminals to disguise themselves as innocent people to gain Susy's trust and access to her apartment, while continually searching for the doll, literally right in front of her.

Knott expertly uses Susy's blindness to increase the tension, since the audience witnesses what is unfolding before Susy's eyes that she cannot see, and he even uses comedy in a few spots to help lighten the tension. Knott's script had a major revision a few years back, making one of the con man's intentions unrevealed until much later, and the time of the play was shifted to the 1940s, but the version being presented here is the 1966 original script and it still works just fine.

Hale's cast is excellent, with Juli Buehrle extremely impressive as Susy, the headstrong, independent woman who doesn't let her blindness get in her way. Knott makes us aware that Susy has only been blind for a year, due to an accident, which allows us to see how she is still learning to navigate her way through the world around her, and Buehrle's blank gaze and occasionally awkward movements provide a realistic portrayal. When Susy slowly realizes that the people she has come to trust may not be who they say they are, you can see from Buehrle's clear and strong acting choices, the wheels begin to spin in Susy's mind as she hatches a plan to avoid becoming a victim. It's a truly wonderful performance that is full of uncertainty, confusion, and frantic actions, but most importantly, strength.

David Michael Paul is very good as Mike Tallman, one of the three thieves who is enlisted to gain Susy's trust and, even though he grows frustrated when Susy is unable to locate the doll, from Paul's concerned looks and sincere nature we believe Mike may actually begin to feel some remorse for what he is doing to Susy. Dennis Kelsch is appropriately menacing as the psychopathic Harry Roat, who, from Kelsch's menacing moves and moments of rage that boil up to the exterior, you truly believe could actually do harm to Susy. Karl Haas provides a few pops of humor as the bumbling third crook who pretends to be a police sergeant. Mason Berchman is great as Gloria, the young girl who lives above Susy and Sam and who occasionally helps Susy, but also sneaks into the apartment and plays tricks on Susy as well, and Mckay Moody does nicely as Sam.

Director Jim Roehr is very successful in ensuring the performances are realistic and full of depth, and his staging makes great use of McKenna Carpenter's excellent set, which uses numerous pieces of furniture and period prop pieces to create a lifelike re-creation of a 1960s New York City basement apartment, to heighten the tension. The costumes by Tia Hawkes are character specific and Cambrian James' hairstyle for Susy is period perfect. The props are used to great effect, including a few where special effect elements add to the suspense. The lighting by Boyd Cluff provides plenty of thrills, including a sequence that's almost in complete darkness.

While Knott's play may be almost 60 years old, when you have a great cast and superb creative aspects, as Hale Centre Theatre does, it can still provide plenty of jolts, shocks and thrills.

Wait Until Dark runs through November 22, 2022, at Hale Centre Theatre, 50 W. Page Avenue, Gilbert AZ. For tickets and information, please visit or call 480-497-1181

Producers & Casting Directors: David & Corrin Dietlein
Director: Jim Roehr
Set Technical Director: Brian Daily
Lighting and Sound Designer: Boyd Cluff
Costume Designer: Tia Hawkes
Scenic Designer & Prop Master: McKenna Carpenter
Wigs & Makeup: Cambrian James
Audio Engineer: Dorian Williams
Stage Manager: Hunter Pennington
Assistant Stage Manager: Karis Eliese

Susy Hendrix: Juli Buehrle
Mike Tallman: David Michael Paul
Harry Roat: Dennis Kelsch
Sam Hendrix: Mckay Moody
Sgt. Carlino: Karl Haas
Gloria: Mason Berchman