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STAGE REVIEWS : ‘WAIT UNTIL DARK’

Ana-Modjeska Players offer a shivery antidote to the summer heat in their chilling production of “Wait Until Dark” at the Anaheim Cultural Arts Center.

Although the 1967 movie is still making regular appearances on late-night TV, it’s fun to see just how scary this thriller is on stage. The four walls of the theater seem to close in on the claustrophobic little New York apartment where a young blind woman is harassed by three thugs.

They believe a doll stuffed with heroin has been stashed in her apartment. Her survival depends on outwitting them.

Playwright Frederick Knott’s script has twists, turns and, best of all, nail-biting tension. The story is unpredictable yet plausible, filled with disturbing characters who refuse to fit preconceived notions. Part of the ingenuity is that clues are hidden in plain sight, but the blind protagonist has to rely on her other senses to determine what these men want from her and why.

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It’s a complex mystery that requires versatile performances and a complicated set. Both are in evidence here under the direction of Larry Blake, and they are accompanied by some unexpected humor.

Karla Abrams is convincing as the blind Suzy, her initial petulance giving way to growing confidence and finally stubborn determination. Abrams is remarkably consistent in a physically demanding role.

The goosebumps are provided by Kevin McDonald as Harry Roat, the sociopath who masterminds the plan to find the missing doll. McDonald is mesmerizing, whether he’s casually cleaning his fingernails with a switch-blade or reappearing in the guise of a timid visitor to throw Suzy off guard.

McDonald shows how much Roat enjoys playing mind games, and bit by bit he reveals glimpses of a deeply disturbed mind dancing on the edge of insanity. That dimension of unpredictability ups the ante considerably.

Three other performances raise the stakes in the game of terror Roat has so carefully built. Eleven-year-old Sheila Mears effectively plays Gloria, the young upstairs neighbor who unwittingly becomes embroiled in the mystery. Nick Sigman makes a sympathetic character of Roat’s accomplice Mike, a small-time hood drawn into circumstances that quickly spin out of his control. Steve Lawrence creates a convincing buffoon in Carlino, whose bravado rapidly turns into real panic, with good reason.

‘WAIT UNTIL DARK’

An Ana-Modjeska Players production of the mystery by Frederick Knott. Director Larry Blake. With Nick Sigman, Steve Lawrence, Kevin McDonald, Karla Abrams, Christopher Wren, Sheila Mears, Jerry Neadle. Set construction Roger Banowetz, Don Eberle. Plays at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Closes Aug. 15. Tickets $6; students and seniors, $5. Anaheim Cultural Arts Center, 931 N. Harbor Blvd., Anaheim. (714) 772-3925.


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