Wait Until Dark

February 16, 2009 • Posted in Beth Finke, blindness, Uncategorized by

Earlier this week I got an email from “stage management” of Court Theatre in Chicago. The Hyde Park company is staging the play Wait Until Dark — they were wondering if I’d be willing to come by at rehearsal to, well, you know, show them the ropes. Chicago’s Metromix describes the play like this:

A cool-as-ice psychopath smooth talks his way into the home of an unsuspecting blind woman who’s unknowingly harboring a dangerous prize in this classic thriller by Frederick Knott (later adapted to film by Terence Young starring Audrey Hepburn).

I’m pretty sure I’m not harboring a dangerous prize in our apartment (unless you count Hanni, when she’s sprinting to her food bowl at meal time) and I feel fortunate to have no expertise in anything psychopathic. I do, however, know what it’s like to be newly blind and married to a man who can see. And that’s what the cast wanted to know about. From Open Rehearsal, the Court Theatre blog:

It’s a new kind of show for Court Theatre: a populist Broadway hit that most people know from the movie version, and also a thriller…usually a star vehicle (Marisa Tomei played the lead in a disastrous New York production a few years ago), but we’ve cast non-Equity up-and-comer Emjoy Gavino in the lead role of Susy, the blind woman attacked by con artists.

At rehearsal we just sat in a circle and talked. One actor — he might have been the guy playing the psychopath — asked, “If someone was standing in your apartment, not moving, and not saying a word, is there someway you would just sense they were there?” Nope.

Another cast member asked, “If a person you’d met before came your way again, but this time disguised his voice, would you know it was him?” Absolutely not, I told them. I’m horrible with voices. On my street here in Printers Row, passers-by often call out a friendly “Hello, Beth!” Unless they tell me who they are, I really have no idea who is greeting me.

If they disguised their voices? I’d be totally clueless. “But that’s just me,” I reminded them. “I don’t speak for all blind people.” We all have different skills we use to make our way — the cast seemed to understand exactly what I meant.

“How do you think the friends you’ve made since you were blind are different than the friends you made when you could see?” This question came from Emjoy, and was a little more difficult to answer. After thinking it over a bit, I said, “I think the friends I’ve met since I lost my sight are surprised to find out they actually like me.” The minute that came out of my mouth I knew it didn’t make sense. So I tried to explain. “It’s kind of like if I were the first black kid to go to an all-white high school. People want to meet me so they can think they’re cool, they’re open-minded, you know, they can tell other people that they have a friend who has a disability.”

One of the guys around the circle laughed. “You’re telling our story!” he said. I wasn’t sure what he meant, exactly, so just continued. “And then if they take the time to get to know me, they’re surprised to find out they like me.” Another cast member phrased it better. “They’re surprised to find out there’s more to you than being blind.” I nodded.

We sat in that circle for almost two hours – they’d ask questions, I’d answer, we’d get off subject, then back on track again. “This is probably a dumb question…” they’d start off, then ask some of the most interesting questions I’ve heard since losing my sight. Time up, they had to get back to work and rehearse.

As I buttoned my coat to head out with Hanni, I thought about that guy who said I was “telling their story” and realized I had a dumb question of my own. “Is the whole cast black?” I asked. I suppose the question kind of proved the point I was trying to make earlier, you know, about my inability to narrow in on a person’s identity by the sound of their voice. Emjoy said no. “I’m Filipina,” she explained. “But my husband in the play is black.” Another cast member chimed in. “One cop is White,” he said. “The other is Black.” Gloria, the little girl who comes down and visits from the apartment upstairs, is Hispanic. “Did you cast it this way on purpose, or did it just by coincidence, those are the people who tried out?” I ask. The director had left the room by then, but they called him back to answer that one.

Ron OJ Parson is known as one of Chicago’s best directors of realism and is nationally known for his work directing the plays of August Wilson. Ron told me this play is traditionally done with an all-white cast. “But it’s a new era — we’ve got a black president now!” He said it was in that spirit that he decided to cast Emjoy, a Filipina, in Audrey Hepburn’s role. “We didn’t have to change a single line in the play to make this work,” Ron said. “And if you think of it, this play is set in Greenwich Village in the 60s – these are the sorts of people you would see there.”

I’ve been invited to come back to rehearsal once they get the stage set — they’ll observe how I find my way around the set. You know, to get ideas of how we blind folks maneuver. And then, of course I hope to be in the audience opening night — that’s March 14, and you can attend previews before that if you’d like. There’s more information about tickets and all that on the Court Theatre web site.

Benita On February 16, 2009 at 6:31 pm

How terrific to be a technical adviser to a play! That means they really want to get things right. I am always struck by the lack of regional accents in plays (and movies and tv shows as well), because the people responsible never thought about the fact that a dialect coach (a kind of technical adviser) would be worth the extra bucks. Those local accents enrich a play enormously and certainly add to the verisimilitude for the audience.

That said, I would agree with the multiracial casting as reflective of Greenwich Village in the ’60’s (and still, for that matter). However, it would be nice if the actors don’t all sound as though they are from Roscoe Village

bethfinke On February 16, 2009 at 6:44 pm

Ha! I’m impressed you would remember the name of such a humble Chicago neighborhood: Roscoe Village!True to form, I’m not sure what a Roscoe Village accent would sound like…but I bet I could distinguish it rom a New Yorker’s voice!

Benita On February 16, 2009 at 8:06 pm

I used Roscoe Village because of its congruence to Greenwich Village. There is no specific Greenwich Village (or Roscoe Village) accent—-what I meant was that the actors should sound more NY than Chicago. I was always amused at Dennis Franz’s speech patterns on NYPD Blue, and no explanation was ever given as to why he sounded so working-class Chicago. Or why Carla in Cheers sounded so Brooklyn, when she was supposed to be a Bostonian. And I could go on, with very little encouragement!

The film of Wait Until Dark took place in a beautiful Victorian-era brownstone on St. Luke’s Place, one of the premier blocks of Greenwich Village, then as now. I don’t recall if the blind character and her husband owned the house. If so, that would have made them at least upper middle-class, for sure, which doesn’t tell you anything about their race. And I don’t recall if the play specified St. Luke’s Place—-that may not be important to the plot.

bethfinke On February 16, 2009 at 9:40 pm

I found it interesting that the director said they didn’t have to change any lines from the play. My guess is the playright didn’t specify where exactly the apartment was located, and whether or not the couple owned the place. Have you seen this on stage? I’m curious to see (okay, hear) the play to find out how much different the lines are when compared to the movie screenplay…

Sandra Murillo On February 16, 2009 at 10:03 pm

Hi Beth,

That’s great, but they should’ve had you play Susy! *smile*! Seriously, it’s great they asked you for some, well, advice, if you can call it that. It shows the director is really interested in making the play a success — he is not portraying Susy based on any negative stereotypes he or the cast members might have about people who are blind. On another note, I’ve applied to U of I. I hope to get accepted for the fall semester!

bethfinke On February 16, 2009 at 10:09 pm

Oh, yes — I forgot to mention that right before I left, Emjoy looked right at me and said, “I don’t want to play a stereotype.” I was sooooo glad she said that — I don’t want her to play a stereotype, either!
And on another note: DELIGHTED to hear you applied at U of I — I will email you privately about some stuff concerning all that. I have a VERY good feeling you will be accepted, how could they say no?!

Benita On February 16, 2009 at 10:57 pm

Yes, I did see the original with Lee Remick and Robert Duvall. The revival in the ’90’s was with Marisa Tomei and Quentin Tarantino in the same roles. But I did not see that one.

In researching this on the web, I found that, in the 1966 production, the stage setting is stated as “A basement apartment in Greenwich Village.” In ther 1998 production, it’s stated as “A basement apartment on the Lower East Side.” That is very very different in class and in intent, if you ask me.

bethfinke On February 17, 2009 at 12:17 am

Hmmm. Lower East Side. Maybe that’s why the 90s production bombed!

Francine Rich On February 17, 2009 at 2:27 am

Beth, I don’t usually comment on your blog, but since this one is about acting and accents, my story about acting in college (at Fairfield University) is relevant. I may have told you this story, so bear with me while I share it with your readers. I was cast in 12 Angry Men. I played the part of the juror from the “rough” side of town who knew full well how to use a knife and the direction in which the victim would have been stabbed. I once asked the director why he chose me for this particular part. He looked confused, surprised that I would ask such a silly question. He responded, “Your thick accent, of course. You’re perfect for that part.” I had frequently been teased at college for my thick, Long Island accent (which I never even knew I had until I went away to school), but nobody had ever dared insult me by telling me that my accent would lead to assumptions about my neighborhood involving regular knife fights. At the time, I was so disturbed by this comment that it never occurred to me to mention to the director that the play takes place in Chicago, not Long Island–and that the two accents are nothing alike. Interestingly, the juror I played is played by Jack Klugman in the 1957 movie version. Jack was born and raised in South Philly. Here is what he was told–at Carnegie Mellon University–about his desire to become an actor: After his first audition, his teacher told him, “You’re not suited to be an actor. You’re more suited, Mr. Klugman, to be a truck driver. Not that there’s anything wrong with truck drivers, but you’re really not ready for this.”

Bev On February 17, 2009 at 9:56 am

Now you’re an acting consultant? Are there no limits? Sounds like it was a fun experience. I love the discussion between you and the actors/director. And like you, found the most interesting comment to be that they didn’t have to change any lines.

bethfinke On February 17, 2009 at 12:22 pm

Hmm. What next? Maybe I’ll take up quilting!
Better yet…acting!
I warned the cast that once word gets out about this production, they may start hearing from some of the radical blind groups, they’ll say they should have hired an actress who is blind to playSusy. One of the guys around the circle – it may have been the director – said he’d had the opportunity to work with the Theatre of the Deaf
and it was one of the most rewarding experiences of his life. “Do you know any blind actors?” he asked. I shook my head no. Emjoy said that when she was researching her role she found a group of blind actors in New York City. That reminded me that Richard, a friend I met when I was at the Seeing Eye School training with Hanni (Richard is a lawyer, he was training with a German Shepherd named Vogler) lives in Toronto and does some acting. I’ll email him and see if I can get him to comment here. I would think it’d be difficult to maneuver around a stage if all the actors were blind, but I’ll see what Richard has to say about that. Stay tuned!

Benita On February 17, 2009 at 1:29 pm


It is unfortunate that you had that experience with someone making assumptions about your “rough” neighborhood based on your speech pattern (even though it led to your getting a good part in a play). However, you are misinformed about Twelve Angry Men taking place in Chicago. The production notes indicate that the setting is “1954, late summer in a New York court jury room.”


I am sure you know about Theater Breaking Through Barriers, formerly known as Theater By the Blind. Here’s their link: http://www.tbtb.org/intro.htm. Let me know when you’re ready to change careers, so I can be a charter member of your fan club.

Francine Rich On February 17, 2009 at 2:10 pm

Thanks, Benita, for the correction.

Jake On February 17, 2009 at 3:03 pm

Beth, I’m so happy to hear that these cast members wanted your input. It’s great to see those of us with vision impairments are actually consulted at times for things like this. I can’t help but wonder, though, how the NFB will react to this, even the ACB. *evil grin*. Seriously though, my input has been sought on more than one occasion for making websites accessible. The grocery service Peapod, for example, requested my input when I first moved out of my parents’ house in 2004. The IT guy from Peapod invited me and a life-skills tutor out to their Skokie HQ to meet with him. He actually had a copy of JAWS running on his system. The website is now somewhat accessible, but due to other commitments and such I haven’t used the site often. I now shop at my local Jewel just a short distance from my apartment. But even now I need help crossing a very busy street. But I digress somewhat. I have been involved with a nonprofit Evanston-=based organization for a while called Center for Independent Futures. When we first got off the ground a few years ago, our website was very inaccessible for screen readers. But what did the website team do about this? They consulted me, because I had been telling them a lot about how I use computers. It took awhile due to staff leaving and new staff coming on board, but our website was just recently relaunched with a totally new look. It is now quite screen-reader friendly. Some of the graphics I think still need labels, but others are very well described. If you want to take a look, go to http://www.independentfutures.com .

Adam On February 17, 2009 at 6:32 pm

Just thought I should let you know that you will be officially credited as a consultant in our show program. To say your help is appreciated would be a profound understatement.

Dir. of Marketing
Court Theatre

bethfinke On February 17, 2009 at 10:20 pm

Cool! What an honor to be credited as a consultant to the likes of Court Theatre — thanks!

marilee On February 18, 2009 at 2:00 am

What an experience- will you be walking the red carpet??

Richard On February 20, 2009 at 6:53 am


I’d be glad to discuss the drama group that I was a part of here in Toronto. The Glenvale Players is Canada’s first primarily blind group of community actors here in Toronto. I have done a few things with this group. My biggest role was just over two years ago when I played the detective in Angel Street; which is the same as the movie Gaslight.

Insofar as movement on stage goes, it isn’t really much of a problem as repetition and practice does a lot to familiarize oneself with the surroundings and distances.

One of the issues we deal with at times is the ideal of sighted persons playing roles of blind people. I don’t know if that is the case in your play here but we have often argued that a blind person should be cast for such roles. Of course, Scent of a Woman was pretty well done but I suppose it is an issue of trying to get blind actors work as well as some real life.

If you’d like to read more about the glenvale Players, you can find the group at


Just like any community activity, I do believe that it is a great way for blind people to get involved and get to know people whether it is drama, dance, choirs, etc. There’s a lot of forgiveness in lacking talent with community drama; I can certainly attest to that.

Beth On February 20, 2009 at 3:14 pm

Thanks – this is just the information I was looking for. I do understand the argument that blind people should play roles like this one in Wait Until Dark, but then again, don’t actors always play people who aren’t like themselves? Isn’t that what acting is, really? I don’t know if the Court Theatre had an opportunity to cast a woman who is blind, I truly do not know of any blind actresses of that caliber in Chicago. But then again, it could be that few blind people consider acting as a career because they know it is unlikely they’ll land a role.

Beth On February 20, 2009 at 3:20 pm

More from me – just wanted to repeat that I am delighted that the Court Theater is taking the part of Susy in this play so seriously, Emjoy is really putting a lot of research into what it’s like to be blind. When the director asked me last Friday whether I knew any blind actors, it was Emjoy who jumped in right away to tell us about a troupe of blind actors in NYC (the same troupe — Theater Breaking Through Barriers, formerly known as Theater By the Blind — was mentioned in a comment above, complete with a link for more info). Emjoy and I are trying to figure out some time when she can come over and just sort of
observe how I get around the apartment on my own, and if she can find even more time she wants to just generally hang out with me and see how I, well, how I manage. Now, that is dedication – taking time from a busy schedule just to follow the likes of Hanni and me around on our mundane errands?! She is meeting Mike and me at a “discussion salon” tonight called “Blind Women in the Movies: Stalkers, Voyeurism & Vulnerability.” It’s in honor of the upcoming Oscars, I guess, and is sponsored by Access Living, a disability organization in Chicago. They’ll show clips of See No Evil, Blind Terror, Blink, Jennifer 8, Mute Witness and, of course…Wait Until Dark!

Benita On February 21, 2009 at 12:05 am

Just to let you know: I have informed Debbie Grossman about your latest doings vis-a-vis Court Theater and have urged her to get a theater party together to see Wait Until Dark. It would be great for everyone—I know for sure that Sally Cooper LOVES to be involved in all things dramatic. She regularly attends theater in Chicago. Maybe you could give your encouragement as well.

Beth On February 21, 2009 at 3:33 pm

Great Idea! The folks at Blind Service would enjoy this play — or at the very least, it would give them lots to talk about qand discuss. Last night Mike and I went out with Emjoy, the actress who plays Susy, and after talking with her some more I really do want a lot of people to see this play — I’ll put a word in at Blind Service, too. Thanks for the nudge!

Christie On February 21, 2009 at 10:33 pm

Thank you again for coming to our school. The parents, students, and administrators were so impressed by you (and Ms. Hanni, of course.)
Have a safe trip home!
Your birthday twin

Sarah On February 22, 2009 at 5:49 am

Hi Beth,
I’ve done a bit of acting and enjoy it very much. I wish I can pursue it for my career…. But duty calls, and TVI is what I’ll do. Musical theater was also something I was involved with. I believe there should be more actors who are blind or visually impaired. I was thinking about starting up a stand up comedy club at school. It’s just so important to show people that acting is not impossible for individuals who are blind or visually impaired.
Someone already put a link for the Theater Breaking Through Barriers. I researched on their productions and am really impressed with their organization.
It is so cool that you are credited in the program.

Beth On February 22, 2009 at 2:41 pm

Interesting. After some of my presentations people have approached me suggesting I do comedy. When they say that, though, I wonder if the reason they think I am so funny is that I took them by surprise – they thought they’d be hearing a writer speak about the difficulties and challenges in her life, they never expected a sense of humor, especially never expected me to have funny things to say about average things that happen in a day, things having nothing to do with blindness. I am pretty sure that if I spoke somewhere and was billed as a comedienne people would come with higher expectations and would not find me that funny! All that said, I Love the idea of your starting up a stand up comedy club at school – let me know how that goes.

Sallie Wolf On February 22, 2009 at 10:05 pm

Hi Beth–

I met you and Hanni at the SCBWI event at Mayslake last month where Jan Dundon spoke. I’m a subscriber of Court Theatre and was following their reference to your being at rehearsal–it wasn’t until I clicked on the link to your blog that I realized I was reading about you. I am really looking forward to the play and I’ll be interested to hear what you think about the set and the staging when you return to Court for another rehearsal.

All the best–


Beth On February 22, 2009 at 10:41 pm


I do remember meeting you at the SCBWI event, what serendipity that you happen to be a subscriber to Court Theater! I’ll be as eager to hear your impression of the play as you are to hear mine – let’s compare notes after you’ve seen it. Thanks for taking the time to comment to my blog, very much appreciated —

Mike On February 25, 2009 at 10:03 pm

Hanni now has an idea for her second work, this one a play: “Wait Until Park.” She decided against “Wait Until Bark” for fear of controversy about accents and dialects.

OK, enough. But it has been interesting to listen to and read reactions. At the movie forum Beth mentioned, there was a case made for casting a blind woman in the part. The implication was, though, that only a blind person could play that part. Because only blind people know what it’s like to be blind.

Which is true enough, technically. But of course, great acting, great literature, lots of great art is all about empathy. And of course, the point is often to put us in someone else’s shoes. And acting is all about that.

One problem is a dearth of blind actors (partly because of sheer numbers–there aren’t that many blind people to begin with). So even if the desire is to cast a role with a blind actor, it isn’t easy. One solution: Start writing plays and screenplays that naturally include people with blindness and other disabilities. And, start casting more blind (or otherwise disabled) actors in roles of all kinds. That, of course, raises the question: Do only sighted people know what it’s like to be sighted?

It’s an intriguing conundrum that goes to how people identify and define themselves.

bethfinke On February 25, 2009 at 10:14 pm

So, hmmm. Will Hanni’s “Wait Until Park” screenplay include roles for blind (or otherwise disabled) actors?!

readingwithscissors On February 26, 2009 at 4:05 pm

The question is, could a Black Lab play the part of Hanni?

Desperate Housewife « Safe & Sound blog On March 3, 2009 at 12:22 am

[…] Beth Finke , blindness Emjoy Gavino is coming over today. You might remember Emjoy from that post I wrote about the upcoming production of Wait Until Dark at Court Theatre in Chicago. Emjoy has the Audrey […]

Benita On March 3, 2009 at 11:40 pm

“Wait Until Bark” indeed! Though you’re right, Mike. Hanni most definitely barks with a distinct mid-West accent…and happily so, knowing that she received her training in (argh!) New Joizey.

And a black Lab playing Hanni would definitely be considered non-traditional casting.

You guys are too much. Miss yiz.

Questions from the Actress « Safe & Sound blog On March 6, 2009 at 1:51 pm

[…] Emjoy about this during her visit last Monday. Emjoy Gavino has the Audrey Hepburn (Susy) role in Wait Until Dark — she plays a blind woman alone in her apartment with a psychopath. “that damn play of […]

The Rest of the Stories « Safe & Sound blog On August 7, 2009 at 7:28 pm

[…] The actress I wrote about who had the Audrey Hepburn part in a theatre production of Wait Until Dark here in Chicago contacted me afterwards to give me some good news – she got a part in another play right after Wait Until Dark closed! […]

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