Not all shows that label themselves as thrillers are actually spine-tingling, but “Wait Until Dark” can be. Hedgerow Theatre’s solid production directed by its artistic leader, Jared Reed, is focused on tension: creating it quickly, building it steadily, and maintaining it at a high pitch. It’s not difficult to give yourself over to it — easy enough for me that when I went out to my car in the darkness of Rose Valley, where the theater sits just outside Media, I looked into the back seat just in case someone was hiding there.
I was already attuned to the dark — “Wait Until Dark” is famously played partly without light in its second half — and Justin Baker’s lighting design has some nice little starling effects, especially during the dark part. The play debuted on Broadway just over a half-century ago and my memory tells me that the original version by Frederick Knott was a bit more credible, with a more satisfying ending, than the 2013 rewrite by playwright Jeffrey Hatcher that Hedgerow is producing.
But I won’t quibble about the tension factor: It’s still there in this story about a blind wife whose husband is the innocent carrier of a doll criminally stuffed with stolen goods. Someone planted the doll in his briefcase on a train from Philadelphia to New York. That could have been a long-gone Pennsylvania Railroad clocker; Hatcher has re-set the original version from “the present,” as the old script advises, back to the fall of 1944.
In any case, the doll ends up in the husband’s house, he goes off to work, and the criminals try to get the doll back from his thoroughly resistant blind wife. They set her up in ways that would delight the most cunning con-artist, and she gradually begins to suspect that some people who’ve come to her house may not be who they say they are. It can be pretty jittery, watching a blind character who can’t discern how many people are threatening her in her own kitchen.
Lisa VillaMil, as the wife, drew me in immediately — she plays the role powerfully with shifts in the tone of her voice, from pleasant to defiant to just plain scared. (In that mode, she makes us frightened for her.) The supporting cast members find their own ways to boost the suspense: Owen Corey, Matthew Windham, and in a menacing portrayal, Adam Altman. A helper in the apartment is played smoothly by Abigail Kanes, a Shipley School ninth-grader.
“Wait Until Dark” runs through March 18 at Hedgerow Theatre, 64 Rose Valley Road in Rose Valley, outside Media. 610-565-4211 or hedgerowtheatre.org.