Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires
Also Fred's review of Disgraced
Keith Reddin has adapted Cornell Woolrich's 1942 story, which was first called "It Had to Be Murder" and then was retitled "Rear Window." Alfred Hitchcock's 1954 film, starring James Stewart, is an all-time winner while the 1998 television movie with Christopher Reeve was also intriguing. Reddin, working from the short story, imaginatively adapts and sculpts a strong enough script at Hartford Stage.
Pivotal to this version is the amplified presence of Sam (distinctively impressive McKinley Belcher III). He comes to the New York City apartment inhabited by Jeffries, also called Jeff, to assist the crime writer. Jeffries is hindered by a broken leg and he hobbles about on crutches. He suffered the injury in the South where he was investigating less than equitable practices of police and others. Now, he spends much of his time spying out of his rear window at neighbors in apartments across the way. It is 1947 and it is hot.
Designer Dodge (with major assistance from obviously talented sound designer Jane Shaw) opens the 85-minute presentation with a rush of excitement. Soon enough, the action turns toward the interior of Jeffries's apartment as he looks out at Mrs. Thorwald (Melinda Page Hamilton) and her husband Thorwald (Robert Stanton). Dodge has also devised a rotation of the Thorwald space. Eventually, Jeffries decides that Thorwald has killed his wife as the already tension-filled plot escalates to another level.
An important subplot draws attention to the difficulties African Americans suffered during the 1940s in this country. Elizabeth Williamson, dramaturg, wrote an illuminating piece for the program for this show which alludes to that situation and additionally references noir fiction and film. The current Rear Window is resplendent noir which, in this case, is not a contradictory phrase. The play is darkly arresting.
Bacon's role demands specificity and adherence to the character. Suffice to say that for all of his starring turns on the large screen he is also a poised, knowing, professional stage actor. McKinley Belcher III has terrific presence and his character, Sam, is significantly influential. The actor has range and steps it up (a nod here to director Tresnjak) with exactitude. Melinda Page Hamilton (as both Mrs. Thorwald and Gloria) is splendid as is Robert Stanton as Thorwald. John Bedford Lloyd plays Boyne, the loud detective who attempts to make sense and draw conclusions; Lloyd is a fitting choice.
The Hartford Stage run was almost immediately sold-out and many are eager to watch a star in performance. Kevin Bacon's Jeffries is more than a tad disheveled, at odds, uncomfortable and ill-at-ease physically from the instant he appears. It gets (fittingly) worse as Jeffries feels that he has an unsettling line on who might have done away with whom ... His point of view is key and, as he feels confirmation, he grows more frantic. What is more: he might very well have gazed out of that very window many times previously and assumed he was eyeing the mundane. The famed movie rendering featured James Stewart as quite the voyeur. One does not get that sense with Bacon's Hal Jeffries. There is no attempt to replicate the Hitchcock film.
The sometimes sensational production elements (including Sean Nieuwenhuis's projections and startling, varied lighting hues supplied by York Kennedy) and effects catapult this eye-catching production. Dodge's frames, structures, lifts, and shifts are undeniably stunning. In totality, Hartford Stage makes it manifest that Rear Window, already highly regarded as a story and film, can very well fit within the genre of theater.
Hartford Stage, in Hartford, Connecticut, presents the world premiere of Rear Window through November 15th, 2015. For tickets, call (860) 527-5151 or visit www.hartfordstage.org.