This weekend and next, the Springfield Community Theatre presents a chilling version of "Wait Until Dark," Frederick Knott's suspense piece that pits blindness against the darkness of murder.
The plot revolves around a missing doll that has been stuffed with heroin and passed to an innocent bystander at an airport. The bystander (played by Bob Hook) brings it home to his blind wife Susy (Harriet Barrett), and it disappears for most of the remainder of the play.
Enter the bad guy, an arrogant, clever maniac called Harry Roat (played with eerie nastiness by G. Smith), who hires two deadbeat parolees to con the blind woman into giving them the doll.
The scam they run on her is complex and scary; it takes almost as long for her to understand why she should turn the doll over to them as it then takes for her to unravel their plot.
Susy does this in a way that should win a belated Year of the Handicapped award: She disproves their prejudice that blindness equals stupidity. Susy picks up on the noises their shoes make, decodes their silent system of communication, puts two and two together and uses her apartment as a battleground on which blindness is her chief weapon.
All this takes place in a high-pressure atmosphere created by the con artists and accentuated by tight, fast directing from SCT's Don Martin that makes it a knuckle-aching evening for the audience.
But it's up to Susy to pull off the show by developing our sensitivities to nonvisual clues. Then at the end, when the stage is plunged into darkness, we can follow the action--and cheer for the wits that surpass the mere sense of sight.
Barrett, a drama major and summer-stock actress from Florida, deserves accolades for her very believable performance. But her professionalism is matched across the board by her fellow cast members, almost all of whom are pros--the key to SCT's consistent polish.
Special mention should be given to the least-experienced, Ellen Bruns, a sixth grader from Canterbury Woods Elementary School in Annandale, who plays a very natural version of the brat upstairs.
Special mention should also go to Bruce Hanna and Roy Griffis, designers of one of the most complex lighting jobs in SCT's history. Since Susy's one major advantage is her ability to cope with darkness, she uses the lights as her weapons. The crew turns them on, dims them and lets them glare while she fiddles with fuse boxes and switches and smashes bulbs with a broom.
All of this on the typical community-theater shoestring budget. SCT lists a page of names of the patrons and angels who back them in hard times, but mostly relies on ticket proceeds from their Springfield, Alexandria, Annandale and Burke audiences to pay for each production's lighting, costumes, sets and stage.
Unlike Arlington's community theater groups, SCT has no free public auditorium, so the players work out of a room in a church.
Even so, they've picked up a half-dozen awards for writing, acting, directing and designing in the last three years, an achievement that places SCT among the finest community theater groups in Northern Virginia. "Wait Until Dark" maintains that reputation.
"Wait Until Dark," produced by the Springfield Community Theatre, on Friday and Saturday at 8:30 p.m.; Feb. 28 at 2 p.m.; and March 5 and 6 at 8:30 p.m. Admission is $4.50 for adults, $3.50 for students and senior citizens. The theater is in St. Christopher's Episcopal Church, at Hanover Avenue and Monticello Boulevard in Springfield. For reservations, call 455-6077.