HITCHCOCK BLONDEBy Terry Johnson
Director - Benjamin Lutz
Stage Manager - Chase M. Hughes and Mia Smith-DeLeon
Props, Costumes, and Set Dressing - Ryan Matthieu Smith
Hair and Make-up - Audrey Schwartz
Set Design - Wendy Renée Searcy
Lights & Projections - Cassondra Plybon-Harbin
Violence Design - Jonah Gutierrez
Nicola - Kayli Hessler
Alex - Jeff Burleson
Hitch - Robert Bradford Smith
Blonde - Nikki Cloer
Husband - DR Mann Hanson
Reviewed Performance: 3/10/2018
Reviewed by Mark-Brian Sonna, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
The play follows three different stories: In 1999 Alex, a university professor of Media invites his student Nicola to Greece to examine some reels of what could be a lost film of Hitchcock dating to 1919. The second story interwoven into the first takes place in 1959 as Hitchcock auditions an unnamed blonde to be the body double for Janet Leigh so he can film the now famous shower scene in the film "Psycho". The third scene is a recreation of the 1919 scene that is to help solve and illuminate the mystery as to why Hitchcock was so fascinated by blondes.
While the premise is intriguing, the script is overly long. At one point during a scene between the professor and the student the characters discuss how Hitchcock's films never waste a moment in pushing the plot. Terry Johnson's script, unfortunately, doesn't follow the example stated in his own script and rambles and slows the momentum of the play. It is clear Johnson has a deep devotion to Hitchcock but his plot gets mired in expository information about the director, his films, themes, etc. I know the main character Alex is supposed to be a professor and would obviously expound on Hitchcock, but at times the script feels like a class lecture. Audiences unfamiliar with the famous director might find the well known information interesting, but to those of us with knowledge of the cinematic master it does not. Regardless, it slows the pace of the show.
Jeff Burleson plays the role of Alex. I'm still quite unsure of what to make of his performance. While he made the difficult dialogue seem very natural, though at times he spoke so softly I had to strain to hear him, I never was able to connect with him. While he is excited about possibly salvaging a lost reel of Hitchcock's, the prospect of having an attractive young student make the trip to Greece with him should have been imbued his character with a certain amount of lust so that when he propositions his student it doesn't seem to come out of the blue. Kayli Hessler as Nicola played the student role as someone who was a bit leery of making the trip with someone so much older. Based on Burleson's performance in the first half of the play there was no indication of his intentions, so the incongruity of why she was reacting the way she was left me befuddled. Perhaps it was a choice on the director's part that Burleson should play the character this way. There's no way to tell. But there was no reciprocal sexual tension between the two, thus diminishing the suspense needed to keep the audience engaged. Hessler, on the other hand, completely embodied the character of Nicola: She understood how her sexuality would engage the interests of an older man, yet she will only give in to his desires on her own terms. There is a betrayal built into this plot line that is a nice plot twist that helped me re-engage into the show.
The unnamed character of the Blonde is played deliriously by Nikki Cloer. Johnson's script gives her plenty of lengthy monologues. She delivered them with aplomb. The problem was that these monologues were frequently expository in nature, and it would have been better had the information been given via dialogue. But give this flaw in the script as an actor she made the most if it. And though at times the play becomes very dramatic, she was able to infuse some much needed comic relief. Her fear of her husband, played very well by DR Mann Hanson, was palpable and when she snaps the moment becomes horrifying, yet oddly comical. This duality made her performance wondrous.
Kudos to Robert Bradford Smith for his role as Hitchcock. To play an iconic person is difficult because there is always the danger of falling into caricature. Smith's performance is magnificent. It was as if the master director were on stage. He nails the accent, the rate of speech, and the physicality of it. He also gives Hitchcock the humanity and character quirks needed to engross the audience.
Technically the show was a uneven. The lighting and projections were done by Cassondra Plybon-Harbin. While the projections were marvelous and helped add to the overall mood and feel, the lighting was too dark. Maybe it was so dark so the projections could be seen? Or was the lighting design supposed to also add mood? Whatever the case may be, the lighting didn't work because it was tiring on the eyes. Even though there are lighting constraints in the theatre, I've seen other productions in the space which were better lit.
The costumes, set dressing, and props were beautifully executed by Ryan Matthieu Smith. The prop requirements would be daunting for any production, so to find realistic and authentic pieces, some which needed to look like they were a century old must have been a hurdle. Audrey Schwartz's hair and Make-up captured the differing eras of this play and Wendy Renée Searcy's set design was simple and effective. The fight choreography was also cleverly designed by Jonah Gutierrez in that it shocked but also caused laughter when needed.
Benjamin Lutz directed the piece and his staging was a hit and miss. While he created some visually striking compositions, at times the movement on stage felt clunky in that characters appeared to move from one area to another without any proper motivation. I'm not sure why he repeatedly have the character Nicola stand in the middle aisle of the theatre with her back to the audience. Not that there is anything wrong with an actor giving their back to the audience when the situation demands it, but there has to be a reason that is understood by those of us viewing the play, and it came across as if she was standing in that position because the lighting was better there. Also, each scene played out at an even tempo. More variety was needed. I do commend him for very tastefully staging the nude scene in the play. It was not prurient.
Overall, Giant Entertainment has done a commendable job mounting "Hitchcock Blonde" given the nature of such a difficult and somewhat flawed script. While it was not a perfect show, it clearly demonstrated that this company is willing to tackle an out of the ordinary scripts which is a nice addition to the Dallas-Fort Worth Theatre scene.
Frank's Place (a black box space)
Kalita Humphreys Theater
3636 Turtle Creek Blvd.
Dallas, TX 75204
Performances are Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays at 8 PM through March 24th, 2018.
Tickets $25. For information and tickets visit www.giantentertainment.org