The play, REAR WINDOW is an adaption of both the 1942 short story It Had to Be Murder by Cornell Woolrich and the 1954 Hitchcock classic starring James Stewart and Grace Kelly. The story centers around a bored photojournalist who is laid up with a broken leg for six weeks. His curiosity and boredom get the best of him ("You know the New York sentence for peeping toms is six months in the workhouse!") as he spies on his neighbors out of his window and watches a crime unravel, to his horror and dismay. But the question is - from what he can see only through his telephoto lens, is there an actual crime being committed or is it all a figment of his imagination?
Okay. I have to gush for a moment, so indulge me. The REAR WINDOW production team created the most ingenious programs, all thanks to artistic director Michael Emmitt's background as a wedding planner and designer. Upon entering the theatre, the audience is handed programs in plastic photo canisters and made to look like film strip. A brilliant way to set the mood and the expectations!
The show was a bit choppy at first (I blame this on preview night jitters), but once the cast came together as a whole the momentum picked up and before I knew it we were rolling. When dealing with themes such as the ones Rear Window explores - human curiosity, connection, imagination, and physical, mental and emotional vulnerability - it is crucial to pull the audience into the lead characters' experiences immediately. Pacing is ALL in a murder mystery. Woolrich and Hitchcock understood this and, fortunately, so does the team behind this production. By bringing everyone into Jeff's mounting obsession through strategic revealing of his neighbors' various dilemmas, the audience is able to experience Jeff's increasing anxiety and feelings of helplessness and claustrophobia as events unfold. Another excellent decision on the part of the production team
was to not have an intermission - that would have interrupted the tension the play strives to build from the get-go.
The music segues are another nIce Touch that creates a sense of time, place and, ultimately, an inescapable sense of urgency. Like an homage to the old radio thrillers of the 1940s, the music almost becomes a character we realize we are familiar with, tapping into our subconscious and setting us up for scene-specific emotional reactions. Another nIce Touch - playing the Hitchcock theme during the opening announcements! A nice hat-tip to one of the greatest suspense storytellers who ever lived.
Brian Brooks as our obsessed hero L.B. "Jeff" Jeffries has a commanding onstage presence, even though he is confined to a wheelchair the entire time. Like the music interludes, his initial resentment over being confined to his apartment eventually segues into intense curiosity about his neighbors' lives then evolves into concern and empathy, culminating in abject horror at what he perceives to be a brutally violent crime committed by his neighbor Thorwald, menacingly played by Peter Nemenoff. Brooks' handling of Jeff's emotional landscape is truly worth noting. Amy Gasparik as Jeff's romantic partner-in-anticrime Lisa Fremont was a bit stiff at first, but soon found her rhythm embodying the smart, stubborn ingénue role. The real scene stealer of the show was
Linda Suttle as Jeff's saucy, no-nonsense nurse Stella. She has the best lines, which added some needed comic relief to the intense storyline.
I adore a theater that can use natural elements, and the 25-seat Spark Theatre is a perfect venue for this show. They were able to center the set around the theatre's main window. The natural light and ambient noise coming from the street simply added to Jeff's mundane real-world goings-on, which made the unfolding mystery even more salient and urgent. Having background sound effects well hidden in the dresser onstage was also a nIce Technique and didn't distract from the plot. The bachelor pad set was adequately simple. There were a couple of minor consistency issues that I noticed (and this is just me being a picky queen). 1) if Lisa is going to wear a brand new designer dress off the rack, make sure it is not totally wrinkled and 2) if the line mentions an expensive bottle of wine from Montrose, don't bring out a bottle of Sutter Home, just simply alter the line. Even for these minor distractions, the show as a whole was wonderful, suspenseful and well acted. And the pay-off at the end is spectacular! Alfred would be proud.