Repertory Philippines' 'Wait Until Dark': Simply brilliant
MANILA, Philippines – Few people know Wait Until Dark as a classic 1967 Audrey Hepburn film. And only those who have earned tinsel hair and a silvery mane are old enough to have witnessed Repertory Philippines first stage the play decades ago. All the better. With fewer opportunities for spoilers, this crime thriller guarantees to keep today's audiences perched on the edge of their seat, gasping in the dark and wondering, “will she or won't she?” This is one experience where it's best to be kept in the dark – quite literally.
For its 47th year and its 77th season, Repertory Philippines presents once again Wait Until Dark, a straight play by Frederick Knott. “It's like a rerun of one of the first plays the Rep did at the Insular Life Theater and Leo Martinez was in it and Celia Laurel played the blind woman,” recalled director Miguel Faustmann in a Q&A after the first show.
Having opened on January 17, the play is slated to run until February 19 at OnStage Theater, Greenbelt 1, Makati City.
Wait Until Dark is the story of Susy Henderson, a woman blinded in a recent accident. When photographer Sam Henderson, her husband, comes back to their home in Notting Hill from Holland, he brings with him a doll for a woman he met at the airport as a favor. The woman is murdered for the drugs stashed within the doll.
Two petty crooks and a murderous gangster collaborate to find out where the doll is and trick Susy into giving it up. One poses as Mike Trenton, her husband's longtime friend, the second as a police sergeant Croker, and the third as both the enraged elderly Roat and his son. Unknown to Susy, Gloria, a school girl who does errands for her, has kept the doll for herself.
At first naïve and trusting, Susy slowly uncovers their ruse and plots a scheme of her own. By plunging her home into complete darkness, the blind housewife does her best to level the playing field against the three criminals. And yet even her best laid plans come undone with the narrowest crack of light.
Leading the stellar cast of esteemed theater thespians is Aliw and Philstage Gawad Buhay awardee Leisl Batucan as Susy Henderson. Arnel Carrion, originally slated to portray Sam Henderson, replaced Jamie Wilson in the role of the murderous mobster Roat after Wilson seriously injured himself during rehearsals. Joel Trinidad and Robbie Guevara played the petty crooks pretending to be Mike Trenton and Sergeant Croker, respectively. Lorenz Martinez took the place of Carrion, playing Sam Henderson. Daniella Gana, who most recently garnered the lead role in Repertory Philippines' children's musical Alice, played Gloria in her first role in a straight play. Lighting designer was John Batalla. Director Miguel Faustmann also designed the set. Sound designer was Jethro Joaquin.
Like stars in the night
In a stark play unadorned with music or dance and where both characters and audiences are engulfed by darkness, virtuosity, or the lack of it, is easily exposed. Thankfully, this play shines bright.
With Wait Until Dark, the convincing portrayal of blindness, the verisimilitude of the obstacle course that is the blind protagonist's home to real domestic like, and the precise amount of lighting—or rather the lack of it—are all crucial, riveting audiences in this suspense crime thriller.
Batucan deserves kudos for her superb portrayal of a recently blinded woman who slowly grasps an intricate web of deceit.
Batucan revealed, “With regards to preparations to play a blind woman, there were certain things I considered. First of all was the onset of her blindness. Someone blinded from a car crash is different from someone who is born blind. Because that would mean I would have a context, a visual 'grip' of how the world looks like. The challenge would be [for my character] to have reference points. I use the chairs, I use the walls, just to keep me grounded and anchored, like a compass, to know where I am. Second, I tried to feel what it would be like to be blind from the inside—the internal. What would she feel like. What would her world be. With the sense of sight gone, all the other senses would be sharper, more finely tuned. She would rely more on hearing and touch. Then of course there's the research on the physicality. When I've gotten how internally she feels like, it informs the external. Miguel always reminded me: my ears are now my eyes. The cast also helped me out.” She emphasized, “We had a great ensemble. We had a great director.”
True enough, Trinidad gave his villain depth as a conman unwilling to commit violence and Guevara added a subtle touch of humor as the bumbling, fingerprint-obsessed Croker. The towering Carrion, an imposing actor by any measure, excelled at terrorizing the stage. That he mastered his role in short order deserves recognition. Gana and Martinez, both onstage only briefly, nonetheless performed their roles succinctly.
Most striking was when Susy, possessing the heightened sensitivity of a blind person, looked into Mike's soul and told him, “I know you won't hurt me.” There was a moment of sincere rapport between victim and villain. “The chemistry is there. Joel [Trinidad] and I have been friends forever. It helps,” confessed Batucan. Trinidad reveals that it took him a while to get a gripe on Mike's character as Faustmann envisioned him. “He's not there to break up anybody's marriage,” he explained.
Just as crucial as any actor onstage is the lighting in every scene. In the darkness we share the heroine's blindness and perceive the world through her senses. The darkness both shelters those who hide from danger and cloaks those would invade homes and take lives. Lighting—too much and the thrill is gone, but too little and the play is much ado about nothing.
So pivotal is lighting to the experience of Wait Until Dark that when the cinematic version was first screened in 1967, movie houses were instructed to dim their lights to the legal minimum and to turn them off one by one as each light bulb in the movie was smashed, climaxing with the theater lit only by the silver screen itself.
Batalla played his part flawlessly in finding the right balance of shadow and light with which the audience to immerse themselves in the life and death struggle of a woman and a murderer in the dark. At the climax of the play, there was the minimum amount of light to see the actors struggling in the dark. Shards of blue light fell strategically on the sinister figure towering in the dark. A bright light cracked open and betrayed a blind woman's gambit. The gleam of a knife pierced the half light.
Faustmann not only directed the play well, he also did a good job of ensuring the set is more detailed and meticulous than the typical Repertory production. The set truly recreated a lived-in home set in middle class London.
There is little room for improvement in this tight and virtuously executed play. The play could do better with live instrumentalists. At times, the sound effects were too shrill, and that stung the ears. Nonetheless, they did a good job of jolting audiences. The soundscape was stark and staccato, in tune with the period setting of the original play and was evocative of the scoring of the movies of the same milieu such as Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho.
Ultimately, with a play such as Wait Until Dark, there is truly only one criterion—an audience ensnared in suspense. This play achieved this with an iron fist around one's throat and stiletto knife to one's heart. It is a must-see in the dark. – Rappler.com
For more details, visit www.repertoryphilippines.com, www.facebook.com/repertoryphilippines, or call 571-6926. For tickets, visit ticketworld.com.ph or call 891-9999
Writer, graphic designer, and business owner Rome Jorge is passionate about the arts. Formerly the Editor-in-Chief of asianTraveler Magazine, Lifestyle Editor of The Manila Times, and cover story writer for MEGA and Lifestyle Asia Magazines, Rome Jorge has also covered terror attacks, military mutinies, mass demonstrations as well as Reproductive Health, gender equality, climate change, HIV/AIDS and other important issues. He is also the proprietor of Strawberry Jams Music Studio.