There wasn’t a seat to be had at Hartford Stage this weekend. The full house had a lot to do with celebrated actor Kevin Bacon who has the lead in Keith Reddin’s adaptation of Rear Window. Although Bacon has the lead, he is not the star of this show. That designation belongs to Alexander Dodge’s remarkable set. The problem is that the set is so spectacular, it frequently upstages the actors as well as the play.
Darko Tresnjak directs the full equity cast. Bacon, who made his Hartford Stage debut here, does a fine job, but his character doesn’t have much to go on in this rendition. This production is not like the Alfred Hitchcock movie, although it and Hitchcock’s film are based on Cornell Woolrich’s classic crime story with the same title. Hitchcock enhanced the story with a stirring romance between James Stewart and Grace Kelly. Woolrich had the main character hanging by his thumbs outside the window. Don’t ask how Reddin’s adaptation ends – not definitively. There are three possible outcomes.
The plot revolves around Hal Jeffries (Bacon), a crime reporter with a keen sense of observation. Since he is laid up with his leg in a cast and can’t do very much, he becomes intrigued with the couples’ lives he sees through the windows of the apartment complex across the courtyard. He realizes one couple, the Thorwalds, are having serious marital problems. When he sees the Mr. with a blood-stained shirt and no longer sees the Mrs., he suspects murder.
After sending the cops to investigate and finding nothing, he resorts to his own methods. He has his caretaker Sam check out the apartment across the way. Eventually, Mr. Thorwald catches on to who is on his case and enters Jeffries’ apartment. He shoots both Sam and Jeffries. However, in one of the final scenes, both Jeffries and Sam are packed for a trip and looking in perfect health. Did Jeffries imagine the whole thing in one of his drunken stupors? Did they both manage to survive and the playwright forgot to fill in the blanks? And last but not least is there a homosexual relationship between Sam and Jeffries? Take your pick.
The cast performs well, especially McKinley Belcher III as Sam, John Bedford Lloyd as Boyne, the racist police chief, Robert Stanton as Mr. Thorwald and Melinda Page Hamilton playing Mrs. Thorwald as well as Jeffries’ ex-wife. Many other actors perform in the window scenes that Jeffries observes.
Without a doubt, the star status goes to the set. It is so stunning that when the back wall of Jeffries’ apartment drops and reveals a multi-leveled apartment house complete with tenants and construction workers, the Hartford audience spontaneously applauded the set change. It deserved it. However, it soon became tedious watching the set move, elevator fashion, up and down. Add to this the projections of eyes, perhaps inner eyes, and characters’ images that are also splashed across the set. The end result is technology overkill and a staged event with movie-like accents.
Also in the winner’s circle are Leslie Malitz’s costumes, Jason Bieber’s lighting design and Hunter Spoede’s thriller sound effects. There is some talk of this drama moving to Broadway, but hopefully, it will be tweaked enough to let Kevin Bacon really shine. The play runs through Nov. 15. Box office: 860-527-5151
Joanne Greco Rochman is an active member in The American Theatre Critics Association. She welcomes comments. Contact: [email protected]