If you ask me…
- Tom Holehan
A Cinematic “Rear Window” at Hartford Stage
It’s all about the set these days at Hartford Stage. Even with a genuine movie star at its center, the world premiere production of “Rear Window”, adapted for the stage by Keith Reddin and directed with cinematic style by the endlessly creative Darko Tresnjak, will most likely be remembered for that jaw-dropping moment when Alexander Dodge’s astonishing scenic surprise is revealed. It’s quite a moment, but what about the play, you ask? That is quite another matter.
Based on the original story by Cornell Woolrich and not Alfred Hitchcock’s 1957 classic film starring James Stewart and Grace Kelly, this new “Rear Window” shares the basic premise of the film. Its central character, played by Kevin Bacon in a respectable Hartford Stage debut and the reason the theatre has sold out the entire run of this premiere, plays Hal Jeffries, an embittered crime reporter currently confined to a wheelchair with a broken leg. He spends his days drinking, watching his neighbors across the way and mourning the death of his marriage. In the Grace Kelly role is Sam (a fine McKinley Belcher III), an African-American houseman who is an admirer of Hal’s work on civil rights and maybe more. The time is 1947 and there are hints of a possible homosexual relationship here, but given the time period it is very subtle. Perhaps too subtle especially in regards to an ending that had several nearby audience members questioning what they had just seen.
No matter, the set is still the prime topic of conversation in “Rear Window” and when Mr. Dodge reveals the upstage neighborhood that provides Hal’s view, it’s quite a theatrical moment. Hal’s apartment splits from top to bottom and we see the enormous expanse of a brick and fire escape edifice teaming with life behind the various apartment windows on display. Yes, the audience applauds and gasps in equal measure but once the thrill is gone, the other dozen times the building is revealed is met with a diminishing series of “oohs” and “aahs”.
In addition, the murder story across the way gets to be a muddle (Robert Stanton is the milquetoast suspect and somewhat miscast) and the play ends in a tight 85-minute running time with no shortage of cinematic tricks and bombastic music. The Bernard Herrman-inspired sound design is by Jane Shaw with various expert projections provided by Sean Nieuwenhuis. Yes, creativity is in ample supply behind-the-scenes here with a budget that must have been limitless. There is plenty of style to be sure but not much ultimately in the way of coherence or genuine suspense. In the end, the awesome technical achievements overwhelm the struggling story at its center. You may leave the theatre humming the set and not much more.
“Rear Window”, whose run is currently sold-out, continues at Hartford Stage through November 15. For further information and possible seating, call the theatre box office at 860.527.5151 or visit: www.hartfordstage.org.
Tom Holehan is one of the original founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: email@example.com. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.