In Frederick Knott's classic 1966 thriller, blind housewife Susy pits her wits against the sighted thugs out to get their murderous hands on a doll filled with heroin.
As a follow-up to his ultra-successful suspense story Dial M For Murder (filmed in 3-D by Hitchcock in 1954), Knott upped the ante by making his leading character blind. During the final scene when Susy is menaced by sadist Roat, all the lights go out on stage. She has leveled the playing field. Until that point, which is presented by Texas Repertory Theatre with chilling precision, the play's fairly leaden with top-heavy exposition and some plot mechanics that don't creak so much as scream.
Susy's got to be the most resourceful heroine since Scarlett O'Hara saved her beloved Tara from those nasty Yankees. Once she realizes that the dutiful policeman and the former marine buddy of her husband are not who they say they are, and that the old man who just barged in wears the same shoes as his "son" who came to talk to her earlier, her suspicions go into overdrive. She concocts an elaborate plot, too, just like the meanies. The fun of this thriller is finding out if she can outfox the foxes.
An innocent in peril is the epitome of suspense, and TRT delivers the chills with gusto. It helps to have some fine actors deliver Knott's knotty lines with conviction. Watch old pro Steven Fenley (TRT's artistic director), playing a newly released petty criminal who's eating a sandwich, and you'll see an entire seminar in acting as he turns throwaway action into the stuff of character development. Ross Bautsch, as evil Roat, has real menace in him as he baits poor Susy. He makes a glorious villain. And Lauren Dolk, as sweet Susy, radiates convincing innocence and, later, compelling resourcefulness in her battles. She's fierce and comely.
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The rest of the cast is ably played by Keiana Kreitz (bratty Gloria), David Walker (sympathetic bad guy Mike) and Fong Chau (stalwart husband Sam). Jodi Bobrovsky's ratty set really looks like a Greenwich Village basement apartment, and Eric Marsh's lack of lighting is pretty spiffy, especially the last blinding effect that not even Susy has thought of.
Chills in the theater are difficult to come by. This one takes the cake. Make a wish and blow out the lights.
The show runs through October 30 at Texas Repertory Theatre, 14243 Stuebner Airline Rd., 281-583-7573.