It almost doesn’t seem possible, that a play could be scary. With all the things movies have going for them, like creepy soundtracks, ominous sound effects, actors pretending to be petrified and a voyeuristic camera, you’d figure the same effect couldn’t be replicated on stage, in a theater, with actors clearly performing in front of you. Yet, Broadway and theater in general show a history of plays that truly unnerved audiences and had them, literally, screaming. In the past 30 years, some of the most famous plays that left audiences shuddering include “Death Trap,” “Dracula” (with Frank Langella’s legendary take on The Count and “Wait Until Dark.” Of the three, the latter is arguably the most frightening, iconic and influential.
The play takes place in a single apartment, inhabited by Susy, a blind woman. Over the course of a day, three very bad men make their way into their her home, for reasons involving a desired item (which is best left unrevealed, like many of the surprises in store). The ruse played by the trio of criminals on Susy is initially no more than an elaborate game, until the threat grows larger and one of the men, with a cold heart and a talent for violence, loses his patience.
The story is a classic in the thriller genre, with an ending that all but guarantees to leave audiences petrified… and it’s coming to the Iao Theater.
History of the Dark
Frederick Knott’s thriller premiered in 1966 and caused a minor sensation. The Broadway production starred Lee Remick and Robert Duvall and was directed by Arthur Penn, one year before he directed the landmark American film, “Bonnie and Clyde.”
Not long after its first appearance as a stage attraction, the film adaptation followed (in 1966, the same year as its stage debut). Starring Audrey Hepburn as Susy and Alan Arkin as one of the most loathsome villains in cinema, the film was enormously successful, showcased Hepburn in a rare dramatic role and launched Arkin’s still-going reign as a reliably first rate character actor.
The film’s climax is legendary, and still nerve shattering after all these years. Having shown the movie to numerous film classes over the years, I can vouch for its effectiveness: classes stuffed with college students always jump and scream during a certain moment. It never fails to shake up even the most jaded horror movie aficionado.
Revivals emerged over the years on stage, though none have been as infamous as the 1998 Broadway production with Marisa Tomei and Quentin Tarantino; while ticket sales were brisk, critics savaged the performance by Tarantino. While an acclaimed director, Tarantino’s acting has never been as adored and the New York theater critics eviscerated his performance and, by association, the production.
Films have re-imagined or stolen outright from “Wait Until Dark.” Both “Panic Room” and the painfully obvious “Hear No Evil” (in which the protagonist is deaf, not blind. How novel!) bear the narrative DNA of Knott’s play. Most films portraying a home invasion, whether its “Copycat,” “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” or even “Home Alone,” all bear markings of being influenced by “Wait Until Dark.”
Few works of popular fiction explore the fear of the dark better than “Wait Until Dark,” which transforms darkness into something of a character itself in the third act. The universal fear of the dark has always been misunderstood: no one is literally afraid of shadows, only the threat it may conceal. “Wait Until Dark” demonstrates how pitch blackness can be a handicap, a weapon and a place where your worst nightmares are realized.
Fear of the Dark Comes to Market Street
The appearance of a music-free, non-comedic stage production, like Maui OnStage’s “Wait Until Dark,” is a rarity, even within the already eclectic offerings found in Maui theaters. The opportunity to see such a chair gripping, blood curdling, scream-inducing thriller at the Iao Theater shouldn’t be missed. After all, once the lights go up and the cast takes a curtain call, the audience lets out a sigh of relief and the chuckle of knowing there’s nothing to be afraid of…until you get home…and you turn out the lights…
Wait Until Dark runs from September 26th-October 5th at the Iao Theater. Call 808.242.6969 or go to mauionstage.com for tickets.