Hartford Stage’s current production of “Rear Window” is a wildly stylish, beautifully designed, yet ultimately confusing evening of theatre. As adapted for the stage by Keith Reddin, and based on the same Cornell Woolrich story that inspired Alfred Hitchcock’s classic film, director Darko Tresnjak can be commended for not slavishly recreating the 1954 movie, but he doesn’t exactly offer a viable stage alternative to the film. Of course, the real attraction of Hartford Stage’s “Rear Window” (and the reason that the entire run of the production is sold out) is the casting of Kevin Bacon in the James Stewart role. Kevin Bacon’s indelible performance and powerful stage presence is certainly an awesome asset to Hartford Stage’s production, yet the question must be asked if this is ultimately enough. As mentioned, this “Rear Window” is filled with style and atmosphere—and Alexander Dodge’s imposing (and beautiful) set design is almost a show in itself—but while the production does hold one’s interest throughout its 85 minute running time, you still may leave Hartford Stage’s production of “Rear Window” somewhat bewildered.
This is a pity, because there is much in this production that is praiseworthy. Using some of the music from the film “The Grifters” at the start of the show, the feeling of film noir is immediately established, with highly effective lighting design by York Kennedy. The physical production of “Rear Window” is amongst the strongest I’ve ever seen and director Darko Tresnjak works brilliantly with his designers. Magically, scenic designer Alexander Dodge has created a breathtaking stage creation of the apartment complex across the courtyard from the apartment that the leading character Hal Jeffries (the Kevin Bacon role) resides in. As in the film version, the leading character is confined to his apartment, with a cast on his leg, and he spends all his time watching his neighbors across the courtyard. And, just like James Stewart in the movie, he begins to wonder if one of his neighbors has committed murder.
It is here that Hartford Stage’s “Rear Window” breaks from the plot and characters of Alfred Hitchcock’s film. Consequently, there is no Grace Kelly or Thelma Ritter role in this “Rear Window,” but, instead, Kevin Bacon’s companion is a young African American man named Sam (extremely well played by McKinley Belcher III). Not to give any more of this show’s plot away, Sam is the one who tends to the leading character’s needs and he must ultimately do the dirty work that Kevin Bacon is unable to do in investigating the possible murder.
Unfortunately, despite the fine work of the actors and the design team, Hartford Stage’s “Rear Window” eventually becomes almost hopelessly confusing. As the audience gets increasingly wrapped up in the show, there is difficulty in determining exactly what is actually real and what is the hallucination or fever dream of the Kevin Bacon character (who drinks incessantly and gets almost no sleep). There is another character, Boyne (the fine John Bedford Lloyd), who is introduced as the abrasive and somewhat coarse police investigator friend of Kevin Bacon’s, who eventually gets to the bottom of the possible murder.
Or does he? Ultimately Hartford Stage’s production of “Rear Window” is somewhat a mystery in itself, in that an audience member doesn’t know quite what to believe actually happens by the conclusion and what is instead a figment of the leading character’s imagination. And, despite the excellent acting and star presence of Kevin Bacon, as well as the astonishingly well-produced production by director Darko Tresnjak, this “Rear Window” at Hartford Stage leaves one in a state of confusion. Is the show worth seeing? I would say, probably “yes,” just because of the very real assets that this production has to offer (and I will confess that the play certainly held my attention throughout). I only wish that Darko Tresnjak and company had lavished more time in establishing a more coherent and clearer stage version of “Rear Window” to stand beside Alfred Hitchcock’s classic film.
“Rear Window” continues performances at Hartford Stage in Hartford, CT through November 15, 2015. For tickets, please visit www.hartfordstage.org or call the box office at 860-527-5151.