Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Jungle Sheds Sinister Light on Hitchcock

Coming from a theater student who knows little about the history of film, Hitchcock Blonde (written by Terry Johnson, Directed by Joel Sass) at the Jungle Theater was an enlightening glimpse at the contributions Alfred Hitchcock made to the movies we see today.

This play about film employs a unique integration of film into theater that goes beyond moving pictures projected on a screen. The set (design by Joel Sass) transports the audience to three different places at three notable points in time. Scenes in 1919 show Hitchcock when he is just starting out. The scenes in 1959 show Hitchcock after his recognition as a pioneer of the film genre. Finally, scenes from 2003 show how film buffs of today are still fascinated and influenced by the work of Hitchcock in both the artistic and personal realms.

                Warning, plot details are revealed in this review, but we don’t spoil the ending.

                The show begins in 2003 with the story of Nicola (Heidi Bakke) and her Professor, Alex (J.C. Cutler). Alex takes young Nicola as his apprentice to restore his most recent discovery: never released Hitchcock films from Hitchcock’s personal library. He coaxes Nicola, despite her initial reluctance, to come with him for a summer in Greece to restore the films.

Though the two do discover some of Hitchcock’s previously undocumented film breakthroughs in the process, the disturbing motivations behind Hitchcock’s signature blonde ingĂ©nues begin to transcend into the mind of Alex. As Nicola and Alex dissect the lost archives, they catch a glimpse into the psyche of Hitchcock where an allusion can often be more desirable than the real thing.

                Playwright Terry Johnson emphasizes the autobiographical nature of Hitchcock’s works and sheds lights on a man who preferred to remain behind the scenes. The play also pays tribute to Hitchcock’s technical breakthroughs in the film genre. For those who know more about film, perhaps less of the technical jargon will fly over your heads. But understanding the film vernacular is not necessary to comprehend the motives of the playwright or the director.

                The lighting (design by Barry Browning) in the 1959 segments portrays the dramatic tones of this film era. The shadows and contrasts are sharp and dramatic, highlighting specific elements on the stage much like frames of film distinguish one shot from another. There is also a distinct sinister tone in the lighting that is emphasized by the chilling performance of Hitchcock himself (Tom Sherohman).

                Heidi Bakke’s portrayal of Nicola makes the character extremely easy to fall in love with, as the script demands. The script is a pleasant mix of education and entertainment that is likely to engage a wide variety of audiences.

                The show runs through March 8 at the Jungle Theater. More information on this play and ticket availability can be found at jungletheater.com. 

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