By Kevin Zimmerman
During the final moments of Variations Theatre Group’s production of “Wait Until Dark,” two actors perform their scene in complete blackness.
As blind Susan Hendrix, played by a radiant Christina Elise Perry, and the villainous Roat, Kirk Gostkowski in yet another astonishing performance, struggle around the darkened set, the only sounds heard are of raspy breath and kitchen chairs hitting the floor.
For those 10 or so minutes — though it feels like much longer — the audience becomes Susan, unable to see and unsure of what is happening.
Anyone who has seen the 1968 film version of Frederick Knott’s play, with Audrey Hepburn and Alan Arkin, knows what is about to transpire.
Susan’s husband, Sam, played here by Patrick Pizzoloruzzo, finds himself in the possession of a doll, slipped into his bag on the train by a small-time criminal. The doll is stuffed with diamonds in this revised version set in the 1940s — the original plot filled the toy with drugs — and there is now a gang of thugs circling the Hendrix’s Greenwich Village apartment who want it back.
The criminals concoct an elaborate scheme to ensure Sam is ferried off to Connecticut for the day, leaving poor, helpless Susan home alone.
Up first is Mike, who arrives at the apartment to see his old Marine buddy Sam.
Paul Terkel, who did an outstanding job as the brutish Ariel in Variation’s production of “The Pillowman” earlier this fall, gets a chance to play the nice guy here.
He does a great job of keeping the audience guessing just how nice he might be.
Terkel and Perry also have terrific chemistry as his Mike coyly flirts with her Susan. Subtle passes become more pronounced as the two spend more time together.
And it is not hard to see why Susan would be attracted to Mike.
Her husband has done an excellent job of chipping away at her self-esteem. Perry nicely captures this once strong and sighted woman who now feels helpless, because she is reminded of it in many ways.
The bratty, upstairs neighbor Gloria, played by Schuyler Press, lets herself into the basement apartment with a key provided to her by Sam. He didn’t want Susan running up the four stairs to the front door because, Gloria tells her, he was worried she might trip and hurt herself.
Even when Susan tries to assert herself with Sam, he makes sure to keep the upper hand.
During an argument early on, she throws a pencil at him. Naturally it misses, but Sam makes her feel even worse about that when he tells her to pick it up.
“If you can’t find it, you shouldn’t have thrown it,” Sam said.
Susan finds her strength throughout the proceedings in which the thieves, including dishonored cop Carlino, played by David Rey, and Roat come and go from her apartment.
And Gostkowski, as Roat, makes some pretty impressive entrances.
In a drawn-out opening sequence when Roat and Carlino wordlessly search the apartment for the doll, Gostkowski makes a menacing figure. He is a large hulk of a man with a pronounced limp.
Later he returns as an agitated old man, who tells Susan that his son’s wife is having an affair with Sam. Then Gostkowski comes back as the cuckold son, a fey little man who lisps his way into the apartment.
But it is during those final scenes where Roat is in full psycho mode that Gostkowski dazzles with his abilities. He is scary, funny, disturbing and disgusting all at once.
It is almost a shame that the audience cannot see him at work during that final blackout scene.
If you go
“Wait Until Dark”
When: Through Nov. 14
Where: The Chain Theatre, 21-28 45th Road, Long Island City
Cost: $18/general admission, $15/LIC residents, seniors and students
Contact: (646) 580-6003
Reach News Editor Kevin Zimmerman by e-mail at kzimm