There are few things so intriguing to watch as a well-enacted confidence game. I’m not talking here about that lily-livered mail fraud kind or swindling old folks’ social security bucks over the telephone. Although those swindlers are persuasive folks, they get to hide behind anonymity and safety. The true con man risks his identity; he must be cool and must have the theatrical skill necessary to size up the mark and personally tailor his con so the mark will do what reason and caution would never allow. Most of all he must be able to look into the mark’s eyes and sincerely lie to them. Still sounds easy? Think about how coolly you handled the last panhandler who asked if you could spare any change.
It is appropriate then that Wait Until Dark was first performed in 1966, a far less suspicious age when a man coming to your door in the middle of the day would most likely be selling something, and a woman at home alone in the house would not think twice about letting him in. If he said he was a friend of her husband, then why not believe him? Maybe it is still that way in small towns, but where I grew up, the distant fear of drug-crazed lunatics, serial killers and inner-city hoodlums striking out into the suburbs made us approach a stranger at the door with decidedly suspicious minds.
The con men who gain easy entry into the life of Susy Hendrix (Beth Martin) in Wait Until Dark don’t have very far to look to discover the apparent weaknesses in their mark. Susy is recently blinded and a newlywed who is home alone in an apartment in Greenwich Village. Her photographer husband Sam, played by Paul Ronaldo, has recently returned from a trip to Montreal and is made to be conveniently absent for the time necessary to work the con—one long day. Two small-time con men recently out of jail, known as Mike Talman and Sargent Carlino (Bernie O’Connor and Nik Geranios), are lured to the Hendrix’s apartment where master criminal Harry Roat Jr. (Brien Sankey) coerces them into putting on their con one more time for high stakes.
The focus of the con is getting Susy to surrender a heroin-stuffed doll which had been entrusted to her husband in the Montreal airport under false pretenses. Having searched the apartment, the men believe that Susy and Sam have hidden the doll and concoct an elaborate scheme to make it seem completely logical for Susy to hand over a child’s doll to a couple of strangers. And all of this action takes place in the Hendrix’s one-room basement apartment.
Bernie O’Connor does a great job of playing the nice guy, the friend of the husband, who quickly gains Susy’s confidence. Susy is on stage almost the entire play and Beth Martin handles her role well showing her dramatic range. She goes from being a frustrated and helpless housewife to scared but canny. Brien Sankey as both Harry Roat Jr. and Sr. hams up the maniacal mastermind bit to a pitch of clever insanity.
As the play took a Hitchcockian turn, I remembered the rationale of an Alistair MacLean character who, finding himself trapped in a room with five assassins intent on knifing him, coolly kills the light, first thinking thus to better his odds in the dark. This is all I can tell you without spoiling the evening for you.
MCT presents Wait Until Dark in its final run, Oct. 26-28 at 8 p.m. and Oct. 29 6:30 p.m. Matinees Oct. 28-29 at 2 p.m. Tickets from $12 to $18. Call 728-7529.