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Wait Until Dark: Tarantino and Tomei Are Above What Critics Say

By Joel Rosenberg
Staff Reporter

Wait Until Dark

Wilbur Theatre

246 Tremont Street, Boston

Info: 423-4008

Through March 22, $35 to $62.50

The most interesting line in the new production of Wait Until Dark comes right after the brick curtain rises. Having just broken into a photographer's house and rummaging around a bit, two criminals discuss street values of different things.

"How `bout this camera?" one asks.

"Camera? You can't give those things away anymore."

It's a significant line, considering the play is the vehicle for Oscar-winning screenwriter Quentin Tarantino's Broadway debut, appearing opposite Oscar-winning actress Marisa Tomei, herself making her debut (after Jennifer Jason Leigh bailed out). It's fascinating to see what these two (Tarantino in particular) translate from the screen back to the stage - something that has generally been overlooked - and to consider future projects as well. What we really want is a story with the scope of a movie and the intimacy of a play. And what better way for these Hollywood-types to get to know this medium than immersion?

Tarantino and Tomei do a great job of immersion, both of themselves and the audience, into this beautifully crafted thriller by Frederick Knott. Quentin plays Harry Roat, a criminal mastermind who has coordinated a big drug smuggling operation. The only problem is the drugs are hidden in a doll, which has gone missing. Roat thinks the doll is in the apartment of a woman, Tomei, whose husband just left on a business trip, and who has been blind for six months from an accident. The story is further complicated when Roat enlists the help of two thugs, who together decide to con the woman out of the doll instead of just muscling it away from her. Suspension of disbelief allows the trio of criminals to become an improv troupe, and the story evolves from there.

Director Leonard Foglia does an interesting job translating this `60s play-turned-movie back into a play. Aided by a beautiful set from Michael McGarty, there are some really nice effects that set the mood, such as the illusion of a camera zoom to start the show, created by slowly moving the set up stage, and the imaginative stage edits, where a strobe flash and a click effect the darkening of the stage, only to have the same flash and sound bring the lights up again on a newly positioned cast. Perhaps most compelling element is Darron West's sound design, which quite effectively borrows music from movie thrillers to build tension at just the right moments.

Tarantino must have had some directing influence, most noticeably seen in an overly gruesome yet trademark murder scene. But beyond that, his character was quite believable: well suited to Quentin's pre-existing image, yet different enough so that you knew it wasn't just him being himself. His best moments were during the blackout scene towards the end, where he and Tomei exchange dialogue in the dark. Their interplay was quite natural, and helped bring the show over the top.

Tomei was truly the star, though, overcoming whatever Brooklyn accent people might have been expecting to perform blind to a live audience, never breaking character. The little things were what made it ring true: her difficulty in hanging up a phone and her frustration as Gloria, the obnoxious but eventually important kid who lives upstairs, nicely played by Imani Parks, drops things all over the apartment which Tomei knows she's going to have a hard time picking up. Tomei also brings a richness to the part that makes you really care about her and her welfare, perhaps aided by the despicable criminals who are blatantly taking advantage of her, and her will to fight back in the second act.

I think this play has been treated extremely unfairly by the media. The fact that the two stars have previously successful credits sets them up for a fall, and I think that the Boston press has taken too much license with that point. Reviews have been pretty miserable, to be generous. The Boston Phoenix even ran a column last week listing "5 Quentin Tarantino Roles," which included a Laurie-killing Curly from Oklahoma!, the Phantom in a gimp suit trying to get Christine to submit, and an abusive Daddy Warbucks, a.k.a. Big Daddy B, roughing up Annie. Sure they're funny, but they ignore not only the play's value as among the best entertainment in town right now, but also the possibilities that might be opened up if Tarantino decides to try his is hand at stage writing and directing as the result of this successful endeavor.

Overall, Wait Until Dark is a fascinating plot played out by fascinating people, both in their own right and in their ability to bring the characters to life. It's only here for another week, so you better hurry if you want to try and catch it before it departs for New York. Who knows? It might end up further changing the value of a camera.