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THEATER REVIEW 'WAIT UNTIL DARK' : Gimmicky Look : The Simi Valley production is a bit like an adult 'Home Alone,' though it relies on suspense and not humor for effect.

February 20, 1992|TODD EVERETT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Terrorized by a gang of villains, a blind woman must depend on her own wits and limited household resources to resolve the situation.

That sounds a bit like a "Home Alone" for adults. And so it is, though the 1966 melodrama relies on suspense, not humor, for effect.

Originally set and first produced in London, the play soon made a transatlantic crossing. The present production of "Wait Until Dark" by Simi Valley's Santa Susana Repertory Company is based on the Broadway presentation and set, to no great harm, in New York City.

The central figure in Frederick Knott's Hitchcock-like plot is Suzy Hendrix. The bad guys believe that her husband, a photographer, has unwittingly brought into the country something that they want very much indeed. Sam Hendrix is lured away from the couple's apartment, leaving Suzy at the villains' mercy.

To reveal much more of the plot would give away the surprises, of which there are several in this entertaining production.

Renee Martin Bullock is strong and believable as Suzy, still learning to live with her relatively recent loss of sight. Lee Remick played her on Broadway, and Audrey Hepburn in the film.

The supporting cast includes Gary Costello as Suzy's supportive (though largely absent) husband, and Emily Hornsby and Jennifer Roach alternate as the bratty daughter of the Hendrix's upstairs neighbors. Michael David Simms plays almost-charming con man Mike Talman, John Henry Whitaker is the burly, more obviously threatening Croker, and George Jensky is featured as the mysterious Harry Roat.

All were fine (Roach was the daughter on opening night), though one of the principals was having some trouble with his lines and another seemed to be rather disconcertingly basing his character's accent on Chico Marx.

More problematic was a glitch in the staging, by director Frederick Hoffman.

Granted that the play is gimmicky to the extreme, and the demands for suspension of disbelief are strained to the extreme when Suzy simply doesn't take any of several opportunities to either call the cops or just leave the apartment.

That's Knott's fault, and audiences have been stuck with that since 1966.

But if an audience is going to be strung along till the end, the effects have to work consistently. And at least on opening night they didn't.

A major surprise well into the show--and its most startling moment--turned out to work because of a cheat. Without wanting to spoil the moment, suffice it to say that a light that doesn't go on earlier in the play does go on later.

And isn't it odd that while the lights are out in the apartment, none of the heavies even attempts to turn them on?

Other technical credits are excellent, with Ed Wright earning his credit for "sound design" with a combination of heartbeats, rain and other special effects.

* WHERE AND WHEN

"Wait Until Dark" continues weekends through March 15 at the Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center in the old courthouse, 3190 Cochran St. Performances are at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $12 for adults, $8 for senior citizens and students, and $6 each for groups of 20 or more. Reservations are advised; this production is already nearly sold out. For reservations or information, call 582-9000.

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