Theater: Derby Dinner production is dexterous in the dark

Oct 16, 2007 at 5:28 pm

‘Wait Until Dark’
Starring Janet Essenpreis, Caroline Ford, Jon Huffman, Emily Martin, David Myers, Tony D. Owens, J.R. Stuart and Matt Wallace. Produced and directed by Bekki Jo Schneider from the original drama by Frederick Knott. Presented by Derby Dinner Playhouse. Continues through Nov. 11; 525 Marriott Drive, Clarksville. For tickets, call (812) 288-8281 or visit

Frederick Knott, the English dramatist best known for his 1952 BBC television play “Dial M for Murder” (which Alfred Hitchcock adapted into a 1954 film), underscores the fragility of the victim/heroine role in his work. His most distinguishable character is blind Susy Hendrix (Janet Essenpreis) in “Wait Until Dark.” This 1960s Greenwich Village housewife is caught in a deadly web of circumstance when three crooks (Jon Huffman, David Myers and J.R. Stuart) try to con her into finding a doll in her possession that is stuffed with heroin.

Essenpreis doesn’t portray Hendrix as an invalid by any means. In preparing for the role, the actress trained with the American Printing House for the Blind, which seemed to have helped her convey the frustration and lack of confidence of someone who has been blind for just a year. Ford as Gloria, a child neighbor, plays this rambunctious adolescent with alarming talent — one can easily sympathize with Hendrix, who doesn’t know whether to leash out or to hold the picked-on but unusually intelligent girl who is crucial in helping Hendrix figure out the crooks’ plan.

The last act, played in velvet darkness, is truly frightening; Essenpreis and Huffman, who also demonstrates chameleon-like vocal talent, should be applauded for not breaking their necks. Hendrix’s apartment seemed authentic to the 1960s, but it was disappointing that no cultural homage was paid to the setting of Greenwich Village, a haven of many influential creative social nonconformists. Sometimes the action was difficult to make out in this square-shaped theater in the round.

But the professionally coordinated actors made it easy to overlook the minor annoyance of being kept slightly in the dark.