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A CurtainUp Review
Rear Window

" What have you done with her? "— Jeffries' anonymous note to Thorwald, his suspicious acting neighbor

Kevin Bacon
Anyone going to see Rear Window at Hartford Stage expecting (hoping) to see a stage adaptation of Alfred Hitchcock's 1954 film will be disappointed and puzzled.They will, however, be treated to one of the most and impressive sound and set designs even put on display at this theater.

At one point the simple, claustrophobic apartment of Hal Jeffries (Kevin Bacon) explodes upward to reveal behind it a three-story building with characters in each of its illuminated apartments. The ears are rewarded too when the sound and light of a subway train roars across and around the stage conveying the almost unstoppable power and danger of metropolitan life. There's ample use to of clanging bells to heighten the sense of doom.

This is all good because the script, despite its intriguing plot and a solid performance by Bacon comes off as by-the-numbers. It's unfortunately another instance of go for the scenery, stay for the play.

Playwright Keith Reddin has returned to the original source of the movie, Cornell Woolrich's short story "It Had to be Murder" aka Rear Window. According to program notes, aspects of Woolrich's biography were also included in the mix. A writer noted for his noir plots, Woolrich was alcoholic and a closeted homosexual. His life ended in a series of events as macabre as those in his stories. He contacted gangrene, failed to get proper medical help and died after complications from a leg amputation.

The plot of Reddin's adaptation follows Hitchock's film in a general way adding some troubling conflicts not found in the movie. Hal Jeffries (Bacon) is a writer of crime stories recovering from a broken leg he received during a brawl over civil rights in a Southern state. Holed up in a near empty New York apartment, he spends his time drinking, reminiscing about his failed marriage and keeping a voyeur's eye on the apartments across a courtyard from his.

He's not alone. He's ministered to by Sam (McKinley Belcher III) a handsome Afro-American who arrived on the scene nattily dressed and volunteering to serve Hal. Sam had sought out Jeffries, holding him in high regard because of his outspokenness on civil rights violations and police indifference to them.

While there is little tangible evidence to support it, an air of homo-eroticism develops in the relationship of the two men. To keep Jeffries' straight side clear, his ex-wife Gloria (Melinda Page Hamilton) appears in a reverie in which she complains that he "never comes home at night" preferring the danger of the criminal world.

Alcoholic and obsessed, Jeffries becomes suspicious about the lives of the Thorwalds, a middle-aged couple who live in one of the apartments in his view. The wife, a faded, boozy type, is played by Hamilton as well suggesting a psychological connection to Jeffries' wife. When Jeffries comes convinced that Thorwald (Robert Stanton) has murdered his wife, he calls for help from Boyne (John Bedford Lloyd) an old police buddy. Boyne is a cliché of a character – tough, prejudiced (this is supposedly the 1940s) and insensitive. He's rude to Sam on every occasion assumedly because he is black - or does he suspect something more behind the well dressed "house boy"?

From here on, things become a cat-and-mouse game between Hal and Sam verus Thorwald. The ending is a suspenseful, violent conclusion that should please most audience members even it is a muddled resolution.

This is not the Rear Window you may remember. Even with lack luster performances and often flat dialogue, however, the visual and sound effects are terrific and may be all you need to get the thrills you came for.

Rear Window
Adapted by Keith Reddin from a story by Cornell Woolrich
Directed by Darko Tresnjak
Cast: Kevin Bacon (Hal Jeffries), McKinley Belcher III (Sam), Melinda Page Hamilton (Mrs. Thorvald/Gloria), John Bedford Lloyd (Boyne), Robert Stanton (Thorwald)
Ensemble: Eric Bloomquist, Catlin Harrity, Dan Bender, Roy Donnelly, William Squier, Barbara Gallow, Ashley Croce, John Garrity, Quinn Warren
Scenic design: Alexander Dodge
Sound design: Jane Shaw
Costume design: Linda Cho
Lighting design: York Kennedy
Production design: Sean Nieuwenhuis
Stage manager: James Harker
Through Nov. 15. Hartford Stage, 30 Church Street, Hartford, Ct.
Running time is 85 minutes with no intermission.
The entire run of the show is sold out. Contact the box office (by phone or internet only) regarding any available standing room, cancellations, etc.
Call the Hartford Stage box office at (860) 527-5151
Reviewed at the Saturday matinee performance, Oct. 31.
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