"Rear Window" at Hartford Stage
A spectacular production of a less-than-spectacular play is at Hartford Stage through November 15. On opening night the intricate set got spontaneous applause as the rear wall of one apartment building sank beneath the stage to reveal the apartment building across the alley, complete with a gyroscopic three rooms of one apartment that turned on an axis like a 3-D model.
“Rear Window” was first a mystery story, and then a Hitchcock movie. In a story it’s easy to peer into the next building because the reader’s imagination follows you. In a movie it’s a little more difficult but even there the viewer goes with the cameras to see what the director focuses on. On stage, it’s fairly challenging, so Alexander Dodge’ very imaginative design pays off, particularly if you want to produce a play that just might not make it in a regional venue. Or it might, but it won’t go there from Hartford.
The story line is this; a white writer who is celebrated for describing criminal investigations and trials, Hal Jeffries (Kevin Bacon) is stuck in his apartment with a broken leg. A young black man, Sam (McKinley Belcher III) seeks him out to see if Jeffries will hire him as a house man and helper, partly because Jeffries has written compassionately about a nasty trial of a black youth in the South. After a little banter, Sam is hired, and Jeffries tells him how interesting it is for him to watch the neighbors through the back windows.
Jeffries focuses especially on a woman (Melinda Paige Hamilton) who carries her whiskey to the fire escape each evening for a dressing down of her disappointing husband, Thorwald (Robert Stanton). When she is absent for a few nights, Jeffries concludes that Thorwald has solved his domestic problem by killing her. He contacts Byrne (John Bedford Lloyd), a policeman who was once a friend, who investigates Thorwald but, not finding a body, believes his story that Mrs. Thorwald is visiting her mother.
Meanwhile Jeffries is drinking more. But swigging whiskey from a bottle, while it tells part of the story, is not heavy dramatic action, especially when it is repeated. Watching Bacon stumble and drink, having a brief memory of his ex-wife, Gloria (also played by Ms. Hamilton), and then convince Sam that he must sneak into the apartment across the alley to look for clues was not by itself exciting, and if it weren’t for the stage magic and the accompanying sound design by Jane Shaw and costumes by Linda Cho the evening would be close to a washout.
There are clues to what else is happening in excellent write-ups in the playbill. I could not find them in force in the script. I won’t detail more of the story. There is a surprise ending, which you’ll enjoy if you can get tickets for this production which, perhaps because of Mr. Bacon’s fame, or other good advertising, is very SOLD OUT. To read more about it, or try for any other tickets that are found in hiding, go to www.hartfordstage.org or www.facebook.com/hartfordstage.
The production was directed by Darko Tresnjak, who is the Artistic Director of Hartford Stage. The set, and perhaps the sound design, will surely be nominated for awards. I particularly liked McKinley Belcher III, whose character was more interesting and perhaps better defined than Bacon’s. I hope he’s nominated as a supporting actor for his work in this play.