Film Noir Classic Thrilling to Behold at Hartford Stage

By Amy J. Barry

It’s a tense, taut, on the edge-of-your-seat psychological thriller as only Alfred Hitchcock could imagine it.

The world premiere of Rear Window at Hartford Stage, adapted for the theater by Keith Reddin, is based on both the 1954 Hitchcock film and the 1942 Cornell Woolrich short story that inspired the chilling film starring Jimmy Stuart and Grace Kelly.

It is the story of washed up crime reporter Hal Jeffries, played by Kevin Bacon, who after breaking his leg in an accident, is stuck in his New York City apartment in the suffocating heat of the summer where with nothing else to do but drink -- and he does a lot of that—voyeuristically peers into the windows of the apartments across the back alley.

He becomes increasingly obsessed with the goings on in one apartment in particular where Mrs. Thorwald, an attractive redhead (Melinda Page Hamilton) argues with her husband Mr. Thorwald (Erik Bloomquist) who tries to do everything he can to placate her. (Hamilton also plays Gloria, Jeffries’s estranged wife (in one haunting flashback).

Jeffries is certain that Thorwald has murdered his wife and tries to convince his dubious caretaker Sam, (McKinley Belcher III), a young black man, who has recently arrived in the big city from South Carolina. In a secondary mystery, we don’t really know why Sam is there and Jeffries also tries to figure out Sam’s story.

Jeffries calls on Boyne (John Bedford Lloyd) his old police detective buddy, to look into the crime he’s sure has been committed. And racism adds yet another dimension to the plot.

The Hartford Stage production of Rear Window is a success on so many levels and not only because Kevin Bacon, who has TV and movie star recognition, is in the lead role -- and doesn’t disappoint.

Alexander Dodge’s sophisticated set design is stunning and an absolute engineering feat in which Jeffries’ apartment disappears into the floor after dark each night, replaced by the imposing brick apartment building where we, along with Jeffries, watch the action behind nine different windows, beautifully lighted by York Kennedy.

Add to that projections by Sean Nieuwenhuis that are never superfluous, like in some productions, from the giant words at the beginning, in which the letters that form Rear Window look like they’re dripping blood, to Jeffries face superimposed on the building, his crazed eyes staring at us -- coupled with Jane Shaw’s suspense building sound design that varies from trains loudly rushing by to nostalgic ‘40s jazz that matches Linda Cho’s wonderful period correct costumes.

The fast-paced, precise direction by the theater’s artistic director Darko Tresnjak is reflected in the actors' superb performances.

Bacon, who hasn’t performed live on stage in 20 years, is low key, yet intense in his role, and really makes us wonder whether he’s losing his mind from lack of sleep, too much to drink, and nothing to eat, or if his intuition that a gruesome murder has taken place is quite sane.

Belcher gives a stellar performance as Sam, alternating between being a nice guy and passive aggressive. One palpably feels how doomed he is as a man of color caught in the middle of a police investigation.

Lloyd gives a powerful performance as the crooked, bigoted cop Boyne, who, dripping with sarcasm, could snap at any minute while scapegoating Sam.

Stanton and Hamilton, as Mr. and Mrs. Thorwald, do a great job keeping us guessing until the mystery is solved, if he is a psycho killer or a wronged good guy and whether she’s an angry provocateur (who also drinks too much) or an innocent victim of a horrific crime.

Rear Window at Hartford Stage is an exciting and satisfying night of theater—a reminder that there’s nothing as magical and mesmerizing as a live performance when it’s done as well as this production.

Rear Window is at Hartford Stage, 50 Church St., Hartford through Nov. 15. Running time is 85 minutes, no intermission. Tickets and information online at www.hartfordstage.org or call the box office at 860-527-5151.

This review appears in Shore Publishing community weeklies, and online at zip06.com and theday.com.

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