A blind woman ends up in a game of cat and mouse with a sinister con man in the thriller “Wait Until Dark” that’s going to keep audiences on the edge of their seat until the end of the Wagon Wheel Center for the Arts production.
If the title or plot sound familiar, it may be because the play is based on the 1967 film that starred Audrey Hepburn as Susy Hendrix, the blind woman, and Alan Arkin as Harry Roat, the con man.
For the Wagon Wheel production, Nick Case is returning to the Warsaw stage as Roat with Abby Menocál as Susy. Audiences may remember Menocál as Ursula in “The Little Mermaid” at the start of this summer season. In his five years at the theater, Case has appeared in a variety of roles, from Brad Majors in “The Rocky Horror Show” in 2019 and 2021 to Will Parker in “Oklahoma!” in 2019.
Roat and two ex-convicts, Mike and Carlino, have traced the location of a mysterious doll, which they are much interested in, to the Greenwich Village apartment of Sam Hendrix (played by Ben Strong in the Wagon Wheel production) and his blind wife, Susy, according to a synopsis of the show. Sam ended up with the doll from a strange woman on the train who slips it into his bag. The men try to retrieve the doll from Susy though Sam and Susy say they can’t find it in their apartment, but the con men don’t believe them.
Describing her character of Susy, Menocál said, “I am blind. I am a housewife living in a little basement apartment with my husband in the ’40s. The show really navigates her being able to take control of a space, as I have enjoyed taken control of a space as a blind woman and all the crazy things that happen to her along the way as these men torment her and drive her crazy.”
Case said Roat is a con man who goes through many identities through this con to get a doll, which is very important to him.
“I won’t spoil about why the doll is so special,” he said. “The goal is for Roat to get this doll and he recruits the help of Michael Pacholski, who is also in the show, who is also a Wagon Wheel veteran at this point, to get the doll. And because Abby’s character Susan is blind, it adds a certain obstacle for Susan, I feel, because Roat plays multiple characters. It’s obvious when someone puts on a wig, or is just putting on a voice. But, for Susan, she goes through a lot of struggle through the play.”
Menocál said, “It’s an obstacle for her, but it’s a leg-up for them, but I think the fact that he (Roat) still commits to being in costume the whole time, even though (Susy) is blind, is amazing. But it adds an obstacle for her that, at the end of the show, becomes a strength.”
The con men, Case said, underestimate Susy’s ability, wit and strength and that ultimately becomes their downfall.
“The show is suspenseful, and there is a mystery element and a suspense element to it. There’s a lot of moments of levity and laughter. ... I hope that people who have never seen the movie or the play, I hope they don’t it to be two hours of film noir melodrama,” Case stated.
Menocál said the 1967 movie is great, but they’re working with a version of the script that has been updated from the original.
“It really does give Susan a newfound strength that I don’t is as strong in the original, and I love seeing her newfound strength and seeing a strong woman lead the piece when I don’t necessarily think that she was this strong and this able to take power in the original adaptation of the piece,” she said.
In this adaptation, Case said, Susy becomes more active in her problem solving. “She is putting the pieces together in real time as opposed to things happening to her and then she is responding. She’s the catalyst of what’s happening,” he said.
Menocál said with the show being in the round at the Wagon Wheel, especially with Susy not being sighted, and with the search at the end of the show and then especially with the very last scene, “It’s been an amazing, enlightening and fun experience as an actor to play this.”
Case said a lot of pieces for the theater are written for a proscenium stage. “So, there’s a natural barrier between the audience - that fourth wall - between the stage and the audience. But in the round, while it is a more immersive experience, certain stage elements need to be altered.”
“We have altered a few!” Menocál said.
“So, certain blocking situations. There’s a whole fight sequence that happens that in the proscenium can be told quickly, or even the way the script is written in the stage directions ... but we can’t do that in the round, so our director, David Schlumpf, got very creative,” Case said.
“David Schlumpf is amazing! Absolutely amazing,” Menocál stated. “An honor to work with.”
As an actor, Schlumpf appeared on the Wagon Wheel stage in “Hairspray” in 2011, “Chicago” in 2012 and “Next To Normal” in 2017.
“But he is an actor turned director,” Case said. “And it’s so refreshing to have a director whose actor brain is always on and present in the room and it’s amazing,” Menocál stated.
What she also has found amazing is “looking” with her ears as she plays a blind woman.
“While it’s only been a short two-week process, the amount that I’ve learned in this period of time in trying to do the part as authentically as possible has been amazing and so much fun as an actor. It’s been a challenge, but a fun challenge as an actor, and you don’t realize - at least for me personally - how much eye contact contributes to human connection. Not being able to look you guys in the eyes for so, so long was so crazy,” Menocál said. “Looking with your ears has just been an amazing experience and having to use all other senses in a heightened way has been just a fun challenge, a very fun challenge. A very enlightening challenge.”
There is a scene in the play where all the lights go out and the theater is dark. Very dark. Case said that adds a new layer to the show.
“I think it’s something that - blackouts happen in theaters often, but it’s always sort of passive - a blackout because a scene is over and then people going up the aisles and moving furniture - but, this time it’s a blackout but so much is happening in darkness. So, you can’t just tune out when the lights go out. You have to see with your ears,” Case said.
This is Case’s fourth summer season at the Wagon Wheel. This last year, he was performing in shows from Connecticut, New Hampshire and Florida. He also directed a high school show, “Ride The Cyclone,” which was his first time directing a musical solo. After Florida, he was in a production of “Titanic” in Pennsylvania, which originally was to be put on in March 2020 but delayed due to the pandemic.
He starts grad school this fall at the University of Nevada - Las Vegas to get his master’s degree.
Menocál just graduated from Montclair State University in New Jersey with a musical theater degree. Born and raised in New York, this summer at the Wagon Wheel has been her first full summer stock season.
After the Wagon Wheel, she has a gig coming up in North Carolina in October and then it’s off to auditioning and see where the acting industry takes her.
“Wait Until Dark” is at the Wagon Wheel July 27 through Aug. 5. Tickets may be purchased at the box office, by phone or on the website at wagonwheelcenter.org.