The Talent Company spoofs many Hitchcock thrillers in Wrong Window!
For all the hilarity in The 39 Steps, Patrick Barlow’s spoof of Alfred Hitchcock movies that packed the house at Syracuse Stage last fall, many audiences felt left out of some of the in-jokes from a 1935 blackand-white British movie. Consider the contrasts with Billy Van Zandt and Jane Milmore’s Wrong Window!, the Talent Company’s current area premiere at the State Fairgrounds’ New Times Theater. First, it’s doodling with Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954), the Jimmy Stewart-Grace Kelly American color movie that’s been on TV a million times. Second, although chock-a-block with action and gags, Wrong Window! inserts an Agatha Christie-style whodunit plot not found in the original. And, third, no immediate recall of the movie is required. Van Zandt and Milmore don’t care if you’ve ever seen it at all.
Put another way, Wrong Window! is not simply satirizing Hitchcock’s many well-known obsessions and conventions. (Mac- Guffin is the name of an unseen tenant in the apartment building, for instance.) Even more it roasts the self-importance of Hitchcock buffs who want to lord it over you about knowing every line in even the most obscure releases from the master. To humor such people, sound designer Tony Vadala has inserted snippets from several Bernard Herrmann scores, notably Vertigo and Psycho, as well as the theme of Hitchcock’s TV show, Charles Gounod’s “Funeral March for the Marionettes.” Meanwhile, there are constant allusions (some visual) to Hitchcock titles, starting with the name of one of the main characters, Marnie (played by Colleen Wager).
Marnie Elbies (there’s a joke buried in that name), the author of nine bestselling gothic murder mysteries, lives in a high-rise apartment on Manhattan’s 28th Street. She has recently reconciled with her husband Jeff Elbies (Josh Taylor), who, we learn, once had a thing going with Lila Larswald (Adrienne Foster), the lovely wife in the apartment across the courtyard. They are joined by friends Midge (Korrie Strodel) and her husband Robbie (Jon Wilson), who jokes about the coolness of their relationship.
We see the four in the apartment before us, downstage, but immediately behind them, upstage, is the apartment across the street. There we see, but cannot hear, boorish, pot-bellied Thor Larswald (Shawn Forster) bullying his spouse Lila. The foursome is often interrupted by Loomis (David Minikhiem), a loquacious handyman who, incidentally, slips a high percentage of the Hitchcock film allusions into his tiresome, self-serving monologues.
Even though the Larswalds sometimes draw the blinds on their windows, everyone in the foreground apartment gets the drift of what’s going on over there. He looks threatening and dangerous. Pretty soon, luscious Lila is nowhere to be seen.
Thus far you can see how much of Rear Window has been jettisoned. Jimmy Stewart was a wheelchair-bound photographer, and kind of a voyeur; he saw lots of things across the way, including a songwriter, a dancer and a bodybuilder. Busybodies came by the apartment, but not one of them was a handyman.
In the movie the most suspicious man across the way was named Lars Thorwald, who has been renamed Thor Larswald here, while the film’s police lieutenant, Thomas Doyle, has been changed to Doyle Thomas (played by Len Bilotti).
The play’s most adventuresome departure is to set some of the action in the Larswald apartment. To allow for this, designer Navroz Dabu has given us a solid-looking apartment, built by Stephen Beebe, with two slammable doors. With a change of furniture and wall props, spirited through wide doors by fleet-footed stagehands, the apartments switch places. This leads to unexpected dramatic tension in what had been looking like a farce. What was upstage is now downstage, and vice versa.
Director Christine Lightcap keeps three balls in the air at the same time: spoof, comedy and mystery. Laughs come first, from both physical and verbal invention, such as a lengthy scene in the dark with players holding flashlights. In the best scene, Jeff is trundling a not-yet-stiff dead body back into his own apartment when nosey handyman Loomis enters the room. Just happening to have a blonde wig handy, he plops it on the corpse’s skull, then appears to be making out with someone who is not his wife—acceptable behavior to Loomis, who cannot see the victim’s face.
The lavish insertion of red herrings into the plot, especially the last half-hour, means that when the time comes to identify the killer, everyone is a possible suspect.
And when the villain is revealed, we remember that—whatever the motivation—the character actually gave the guilt away in a scene we were inclined to ignore.
In departing from the Talent Company’s more usual musical fare, producer-director Lightcap takes several musical personalities with her, starting with Colleen Wager in her first non-singing role. She has a bent for exasperation and a flair for comedy. Tall Korrie Strodel, last seen as Janet in The Rocky Horror Show, is now visibly pregnant, not a part of Midge’s characterization. Just ignoring the obvious works for her. On the other hand the paunch hanging from the once-svelte Shawn Forster allows one of the area’s most reliable comics to, um, play the heavy.
Highly experienced and stillsvelte Jon Wilson remains on top of his precision sense of timing. Playing against type, David Minikhiem’s Loomis marks his best outing in recent years. Taking his first lead, Josh Taylor deftly handles verbal and physical gags. As the serious cop, Len Bilotti bounces off the others as a sane man in an insane world.
Billy Van Zandt (younger half-brother of Steven Van Zandt of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band) and Jane Milmore have recently become some of the most performed playwrights in the English language, even though their shows rarely make Manhattan. Like Britain’s Alan Ayckbourn, their comedies premiere in New Jersey’s community and dinner theaters, a market not unlike Central New York. They take leads in the original productions. Earlier this season Not Another Theater Company produced their You’ve Got Hate Mail. We’ll be hearing more from them.
This production runs through April 30. See Times Table for information.
Mystery loves company: Clockwise from lower left, David Minikhiem, Colleen Wager, Jon Wilson, Korrie Strodel, Shawn Forster, Len Bilotti, Josh Taylor and Adrienne Foster in the Talent Company’s Wrong Window!