WAIT UNTIL DARK 1966 VS. 2013 - A COMPARISON

There are some spoilers here, but I thought it might be nice for producers trying to choose between versions of Wait Until Dark to have a catalog of firsthand experience.

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The original 1966 version by Frederick Knott was an immediate and massive hit:

Broadway (Lee Remick & Robert Duvall)

Tour (Shirley Jones & Jack Cassidy)

London (Honor Blackman)

Film (Audrey Hepburn & Alan Arkin)

TV version (Katharine Ross & Stacey Keach)

Broadway revival (Marisa Tomei & Quentin Tarantino)

and a regional, stock, and amateur theatre perennial for decades after the original’s Broadway bow. Plus, Susy/Susan has always been an “awards bait” role.

Wait Until Dark is a show with commercial appeal that attracts prestige actors and lets your heavy duty actors have some fun. The original production was created by serious practitioners of theatre.

But prior to the advent of the new version, reviews of productions of the original in the internet era increasingly point out the flaws in Knott’s script.  So in 2013, the Geffen commissioned Jeffrey Hatcher to make a new adaptation—intended for Broadway (per some press reports), where thrillers have been in short supply the past few decades, whether new or revived. I’ve always loved Wait Until Dark and I saw the short-lived Broadway revival three times.

With my longstanding affection for the original, I was skeptical when I was hired to direct the new version at Millbrook Playhouse in the summer of 2017.

Here are some major points about Hatcher’s adaptation:

1) IT’S SHORTER – even with a lively, responsive audience, the Hatcher Wait Until Dark  was never more than 90 minutes of content in performance (intermission, pre-show speech, etc. are not counted in this timing).

2) FEWER SCENE CHANGES – the 1966 version is in 5 or 6 scenes, with 3 in Act I and 2 or 3 in Act II; in the Hatcher adaptation, Act I has two scenes and Act II is continuous action. This is much less hassle on your crew, as the only internal scene change where you’re really on the clock to get it done is between 1:1 and 1:2.  The changes during intermission are fairly minor and easily accomplished.

3) IT’S LESS COMPLICATED – a lot of the clutter and red-herring details from Knott’s original have been taken out, i.e. Susy/Susan remembering phone numbers with sugar cubes, ammonia and oil in the vase is replaced with blinding via squeeze bulb/studio lamp.

Keeping Mike out of the first scene is genius. Though your audience may have heard of the title, don’t count on their knowing every detail of the plot (or remembering it, if it’s been a long time since they’ve seen it). With only Roat and Carlino in the first scene, Hatcher has created a thrilling surprise reversal for the Act I curtain that gives a strong jolt that isn’t in the 1966 version’s Act I finale.

4) IT REQUIRES FEWER ACTORS – the cops who only show up at the very very end in WUD ’66 are cut; their actions are covered by Gloria and Sam, which keeps the story’s intimate focus.

5) IT’S A DIFFERENT STYLE – what was a 1966 hippy-trippy play of the moment (heroin in the doll!) has been turned into a 1940s film noir on stage (diamonds in the doll). The new time period is instantly identifiable.

Overall, the Hatcher adaptation is easier to produce IMHO. There’s no period washing machine. You do have to show the corpse of “Lisa”. Further, the revised version has been gently shaped to be as feminist as a woman-in-danger vintage show like this can be – Susy of 1966 is now Susan, the lines at the end are different.  The male characters especially have more backstory, all related to why they aren’t fighting in World War II.

A FEW CONS:

Logic holes still remain in both versions – and you will find that some audience members, inexplicably, have come to the theatre and simply refuse to “go along for the ride” of Wait Until Dark. This handful of outliers will not engage with the play, in spite of having the vast majority of the audience around them gasping or screaming. They’ll laugh in the “wrong” places, talk back to the characters onstage (“why not just turn on the lights!”)

There are prop tracking errors and blocking redundancies throughout the published script of the Hatcher version. Make decisions that work for your group.

OTHER OBSERVATIONS:

The play is called Wait Until Dark, not Wait Until Dusk or God forbid Wait Until Blue. If your actors can’t manage true darkness consistently and safely, or if you can’t really blackout your theatre, or do the dangerous stuff with the splashed gas and the matches, choose another thriller that is safer and easier.

Roat is not onstage anywhere near as much as you think. Of course you need a great Roat or there’s no palpable threat, but be sure you cast Mike with considerable care as he’s the workhorse male role with far more stage time.

The lock on the door that worked best for us was actually two locks. A deadbolt has been installed above the knob in an old wood door that has a “button” lock on the side. The audience needs to be able to tell, at times, when the door is locked but also some characters have to lock the door without a key.

Please don’t use the “terrorized by a trio of men” description that’s been floating around to describe the Hatcher version. By divulging the number of men, there’s a spoiler.

I’m a lover of Broadway history and about as much of a theatrical purist as you’re going to find. Nonetheless, I’ve come to the overwhelming conclusion that for the vast majority of theatre companies, the new Hatcher adaptation of Wait Until Dark is the way to go. It’s faster and leaner and easier, which usually means that most theatre groups whether amateur or professional will be able to do a better job with it. Suspense plays satisfy a theatre audience in a way no other genre does, and our audiences at Millbrook left the theatre entertained and happy.

The proof is in the productions: the number of productions of the original had declined, but now theatres at all levels, all over the place, are programming the Hatcher WUD in their seasons.

Thanks to Jeffrey Hatcher for doing such a good job of repurposing Wait Until Dark and making this entertaining classic thriller newly vital and viable for a modern audience.

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