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TNT’s ‘Dark’ brightens Robins stage

WARREN — It’s ironic that the play to end eight months of darkness at area theaters is called “Wait Until Dark.”

Seeing actors on an indoor stage — and a live audience watching them — hasn’t happened locally since March, when COVID-19 wiped out the remainder of 2019-20 seasons and forced theaters to radically rethink their plans for 2020-21.

Trumbull New Theatre only was able to do Frederick Knott’s thriller by leaving its usual home base in Niles and moving the production to the Robins Theatre, with a seating capacity about nine times larger.

“Wait Until Dark” is a show that would have benefited from the intimacy of the TNT performance space, where the audience members would have felt like they were in the apartment with Susy Hendrix as she tries to outwit three criminals.

That doesn’t mean the show didn’t work at the Robins, but the vibe (a small crowd with everyone socially distanced and wearing masks) felt weird as a theatergoer. I only can imagine how strange it must have felt for the actors.

The plot has two criminals who have worked together before being persuaded (more like forced) to work with a stranger who needs their help to retrieve a heroin-filled doll that was smuggled into the U.S. from Canada by a photographer who didn’t know its contents.

The man, using the name Harry Roat, believes the photographer’s wife knows the whereabouts of the doll. But the wife’s blindness, which they initially assume will aid their efforts, turns out to be a liability as she starts to notice minor discrepancies in their elaborate plan.

Director Ron Sinesio gets a lot of nice character work from his cast. Liz Conrad is convincing playing a blind woman, but her performance isn’t defined by Susy’s lack of sight. She’s funny and frustrated, terrified as the men make her suspect her husband of murder and increasingly confident as she starts to unravel the ruse.

The interplay among the criminals — Jim Ewing as Harry Roat, Thomas Burd as Sgt. Carlino and Jim Fogarty as Mike Talman — in the first scene quickly establishes a dynamic among the three men as the tension rises underneath the banter.

Hannah Corbett is cast as Gloria, a neighbor girl who helps Susy out with shopping and chores. The role clearly was written for a young teen (or even a tween). Aging the character up to 19 years old doesn’t quite work, but Corbett makes it somewhat believeable.

Brian Suchora has a small but important role as Susy’s husband, Sam. The believability of their relationship in an early scene is integral to the confidence Susy has about her husband’s character in spite of mounting evidence presented by the men trying to deceive her.

“Wait Until Dark” is best-known for its climactic scene, which unfolds on a dark stage. Sinesio is creative in the way he stages it, using dark blue lighting to simulate the darkness and letting the action between the characters unfold in silhouette.

However, the impact of the climax was muted on opening night because one crucial bit of technology failed to work. The actors on stage at the time (I’m being vague to avoid spoilers) were troopers and plowed ahead as if things had gone according to plan, but it pulled this viewer out of the intensity of the moment. I doubt that mistake will be repeated during the rest of the five-performance run.

agray@tribtoday.com

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