I’ts  a breath-holder

LEWISTON — “I can breathe! I think I was holding my breath through the whole show!”

That was the reaction of one audience member leaving the opening night performance of “Wait Until Dark” at The Public Theatre, where a few new twists have been added to this adaptation of a classic white-knuckle thriller.

The characters in “Wait Until Dark” range from a determined and capable blind woman to a deliciously demented villain. Mix them with a plot that careens toward a spine-chilling climax and you have a sure-fire theatrical hit.

“Wait Until Dark” launches The Public Theatre’s 25th season with this appropriately unnerving pre-Halloween play. Many people have seen the stage play or Audrey Hepburn’s portrayal of Susan Hendrix in the acclaimed 1967 film. They know what to expect. They know how it ends. And yet, they know they will shiver in suspense and jump out of their seats just as surely as they did at first viewing.

This is the kind of show that talented directors and actors love to get their teeth into. It’s just right for director Janet Mitchko’s cast of five, as well as the effective work of TPT’s lighting, technical and stage crew.

Jon Krupp delivers an outstanding portrayal of Roat, the psychopathic killer. It’s a role that has the criminal playing a couple of other parts in order to advance his scheme to get a mysterious doll from Susan. The part calls for some deft manipulation of the audience’s observations as Roat, a ruthless and menacing con-man, uses guile, confusion and threats of death in attempts to outwit Susan.

Amy Hutchins, as Susan, wins the audience’s admiration through her character’s persistence — as well as her own ability on stage — in becoming that strong sightless woman.

Hutchins has played the role previously in a production of the original version written by Frederick Knott in 1966. This adaptation, done a few years ago by Jeffrey Hatcher, changes the setting to the film noir era of 1944 for more suspenseful effect.

Playing both versions has given Hutchins “a bit more to draw on,” Mitchko said.

Ella S.G. Werner, a junior at Yarmouth High School, makes a memorable debut at TPT as Gloria, the bratty young neighbor who becomes Susan’s indispensable ally.

Each supporting role in “Wait Until Dark” makes an essential contribution to the play’s appeal.

Jason Cadieux plays Mike, an attractive man claiming to be a Marine friend of Susan’s husband.

Michael Serratore gives an entertaining performance as Carlino, a phony police sergeant who is part of Roat’s elaborate plot to overcome Susan’s guard. Serratore appeared in TPT’s production of “Side Man” several years ago. He also has appeared in TV’s “The Sopranos.”

Sam, Susan’s husband, is played by Jon L. Peacock. It’s a role that’s limited to the opening act and the ending, but it provides understanding of Susan’s resolve to be strong and independent.

Mitchko, who is TPT’s co-artistic director, pays close attention to defining the distinctly different personalities of the three con-men. One is likeable, one is somewhat comical, and one is pure evil.

She has described “Wait Until Dark” as “almost like a choreographed play” as it moves toward its chilling conclusion.

A new feature called WINE-DOWN is being introduced at Thursday’s performance on Oct. 22. It’s a free wine-tasting beginning at 6:30 p.m. in the lobby, compliments of Marché Kitchen and Wine Bar and Baxter Brewing. TPT also continues its second season of free membership in PLAY PALS, which connects solo theatre-goers when they attend the 3 p.m. Saturday matinee performance on Oct. 24.

Remaining performances of “Wait Until Dark” are at 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 22 and 23; 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. Oct. 24; and 2 p.m. Oct. 25.

For tickets, go online to www.thepublictheatre.org or call the box office at 782-3200.

The Public Theatre is located at 31 Maple St. in downtown Lewiston.

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