I can still vividly recall the night in 1967 when I attended the opening night screening of the film version of Wait Until Dark in New York. Like all red-blooded American guys, I was enchanted with actress Audrey Hepburn (unfortunately, not reciprocated), and I shuddered in horror as I watched her on screen playing the blind heroine coping with some bad guys in her Village apartment. One of the bad guys was played by Alan Arkin, who would one day co-star with Carol Burnett in my film of Chu Chu and the Philly Flash. (Audrey's husband at the time, Mel Ferrer, produced the film; she left him shortly thereafter. She was nominated for an Oscar for it, losing out to Katherine Hepburn in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner.) The music for the film was by the late, great Henry Mancini, with whom I would later work on my film, W.C. Fields and Me. Many years later, when we discussed the film, he told me that his dark, oppressive score featured two pianos tuned a quarter of a tone apart, and he used a "whistler" in the main title scene with its minor-mode melody. (Coincidentally, I am attending the opening of the Annenberg Performing Arts Center tonight with his widow, Ginny Mancini.)
The previous year, 1966, I had seen the Broadway stage version of the Frederick Knott play which was directed by my friend Arthur Penn. The lovely Lee Remick (whom I once dated) played the lead, and she was nominated for a Tony for it. Robert Duvall was also in it. (It was revived badly in 1998 starring Quentin Tarantino and Marisa Tomei: a disaster. Quentin should stop thinking that he is an actor whom people will watch with equanimity. Watching the films he directs is tough enough.)
Alison Pill as Susan and Mather Zickel as Mike. Photo by the Geffen.
All of this ran through my head as I attended the opening night performance of the Geffen Playhouse (10866 Le Conte Ave., Westwood, 310-208-6500) revival of the play this past week. A fellow named Jeffrey Hatcher had done a superficial rewrite of the original work, and it will be playing in the comfortable and convenient Westwood house for the next several weeks... and I strongly recommend you visit it if you are a theatre buff who misses live performances as I do.
Hatcher has made a few minor changes in the play -- basically setting it back from the present to 1944, so he could work in a character playing a Marine returning from the war. He has added a few profanities to make it seem au courant -- they were actually obtrusive. I would like to share with you an amusing memo which the director, Matt Shakeman, sent to reviewers after the performance. I won't be spoiling anything by telling you that there is a device in the play whereby a small ragdoll is the center of a search. In the original on Broadway, the doll contained a hidden stash of heroin in its body, and I assumed that the current version would be something valuable like diamonds or computer chips. In the second act, we see the doll is empty when it is examined... because the director informs us that when it was thrown into a wastebasket in the first act, the vial of diamonds in its belly had inadvertantly dislodged and remained in the basket. As he wrote,
The vial became undone and all the shiny fake diamonds poured out into her trash can... No one knew until it was too late. Thankfully the actor rolled with the surprise and the play finished.
Ah, that's the fun of live theatre: the unexpected.
Adam Stein and Alison Pill. Photo by the Geffen.
The joy of the play is placed squarely in the hands of a very capable, attractive actress named Alison Pill. Charles McNulty, the able theatre critic of the Los Angeles Times, is a fan of the Aaron Sorkin cable TV show, The Newsroom, as am I, and we both were enchanted by the performance of the actress from that show who played the lead role of the blind female (which Audrey played in the film.) Pill was absolutely perfect and made it all very watchable, bearable, even enjoyable.
Alison Pill, from HBO's: The Newsroom, plays the lead. Photo by the Geffen.
We won't be publishing any spoilers to merely outline a note about the plot. Susan is a blind Greenwich Village housewife who becomes the target of three conmen searching for the diamonds hidden in a doll which her husband Sam innocently transported from Canada as a favor to a woman down the block who has since been murdered. The trio try to convince Susan that her husband has been accused of smuggling and the only way to protect him is to give them the doll. Little do they know that Susan gave the doll to Gloria, the bratty little girl (played nervously by Brighid Fleming) in the upstairs apartment. The three cons are played by Rod McLachlan (as Carlino, the cop), Adam Stein, especially good as Roat, and Mather Zickel as Mike,the supposed Marine buddy of the husband back from the European theatre of war. Matt McTighe, in a small role as the husband, is fine and Craig Siebel's set design works excellently. Lighting designer Elizabeth Harper has lots to do as the lighting is key to much of the action in the second act. Susan is incredibly clever and her senses have been sharpened in the year-and-a-half she has been blind since the car accident which caused it. More than that I won't reveal... but I do promise you will be on your feet with a standing ovation for the cast at the end of the show!
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