Review: Suspense thriller opens Rep's 2014 season

Posted at 01/23/2014 4:57 PM | Updated as of 01/24/2014 3:09 PM
Liesl Batucan in a scene from "Wait Until Dark"

A blind Notting Hill housewife, three con men and a mysterious doll transported from Holland which contains 20,000 pounds worth of heroin set the stage for the suspense thriller play “Wait Until Dark,” the 2014 season opener of Repertory Philippines.

It’s a gutsy opening salvo for Rep, coming from the family-oriented, saccharine offerings of various theater groups during the holiday season. “Wait Until Dark” is brooding, intense, emotionally charged and may take some effort to sit through with its laborious exposition.

In the thriller, written by Frederick Knott, Susy Henderson (Liesl Batucan), a sweet, blind housewife in London, finds herself the target of three con men. Her husband Sam (played by Lorenz Martinez) transports a musical doll from Holland to England as a favor to a woman, who is subsequently murdered. Unknown to innocent Sam, the doll contains a pricey package of illegal drugs.

Main con man Harry Roat, Jr. (Arnel Carrion) devises an elaborate scheme to retrieve the doll from Susy. He coerces two just-released-from-jail criminals (Joel Trinidad and Robie Guevara) to do the dirty job.

Trinidad plays the role of Mike Trenton who pretends to be a long-time friend of Susy’s husband, while Guevara plays the made-up character of Sgt. Croker who is supposedly investigating the murder and the whereabouts of the mysterious doll.

The evil trio descends upon Susy’s home one afternoon while her husband is away. They try to cajole, persuade, hustle and, eventually, physically threaten her to reveal where the doll is. They play a game of cat and mouse, a battle of wits, and somewhere along the way, another murder takes place that leads to a gripping, action-packed climax.

Batucan is remarkable as Susy. The role is an acting piece and a challenge for any thespian. Her nuances of the gentle, blind woman are fleshed-out so well that she is able to balance her character’s fragility with wit, quiet inner strength and street smarts. However, she imbues her character with a high-pitched speaking voice (perhaps to depict her delicateness) that comes across as slightly irritating at first.

Jamie Wilson was initially cast in the role of the main con man, and Carrion was set to play Susy’s husband, but Wilson injured himself during rehearsals and so Carrion was tapped to fill in. One has visions of a more psychological approach to the menacing character of Roat. Carrion, however, takes on a more theatrical attack. His affected physicality and accent get in the way, and we lose him at times as a foil to Batucan’s powerhouse Susy.

The playwright goes through great lengths to create an atmosphere of psychological tension. The long-drawn text may actually be working against this intent but, thankfully, the sound and music (designed by Jethro Joaquin) and lights (designed by John Batalla) contribute effectively to punctuate the mood at the right moments.

The play is very inventive in how it utilizes the motif of darkness and light. Darkness, a metaphor for Susy’s blindness, is one of the touch points in the play’s conflict. What was once seen as a handicap, darkness also became Susy’s best ally in trying to outwit her tormentors, and light, in a strange twist of events, even proved to be an adversary.

“Wait Until Dark” is directed by Miguel Faustman and runs until February 9 at Onstage Theater in Greenbelt, Makati.