The setup: Billy Van Zandt and Jane Milmore are successful TV writers from New Jersey (if you ever wonder who's married to Adrienne Barbeau, it's Van Zandt) who also create mainstream farces (Love, Sex, and the I.R.S.). The team's Wrong Window! takes the overall plot of Hitchcock's Rear Window (28th best movie ever!) and makes it funnier, sillier, and action-packed.
Desert Foothills Theater, which sensibly describes itself as being "in the far north Valley" (because getting hung up on whose city or town limits it's within will not help you find the venue) is presenting the play's Arizona première, directed by Petey Swartz (the ariZoni award-winning Unnecessary Farce).
See also: - Alfred Hitchcock's The 39 Steps Is Refreshingly Intimate, Yet Hugely Silly, in Fountain Hills - Curtains: Unnecessary Farce at Desert Foothills in Carefree-ish - Curtains: Copperstate Dinner Theater's Trust Me, I'm a Doctor
The execution: This show and Alfred Hitchcock's The 39 Steps have been introduced to American audiences at roughly the same time, so for purposes of quick description, they're often compared to each other. Except for being comic mysteries, though, they have little in common. Wrong Window! is a lot of fun, but it's not a work of genius that's going to make you pee yourself laughing. (Probably.)
The two plays do both present significant staging challenges. In Wrong Window!, the murder suspect's apartment across the way is the setting for two of multiple scenes, resulting in four complete scene shifts.
This is a good show for low-budget theaters, but those theaters rarely have space or resources for a stage-floor turntable that would make the set both impressive and efficient. And DFT's black box is hardly the first venue to simply have stagehands change one set over to the other. It's a little distracting here, largely because the shallow, intimate stage is very close to the audience, and the lighting is dimmed only so much (and perhaps should not be dimmed more, for safety -- not only are the corners tight from backstage, people and furniture are inches from front-row spectators). It is, however, quite safe as is, as far as I can tell, and the changes don't take too long.
Swartz and company score many pluses with the physical limitations, nevertheless. The set design from Orange Theatre Group's Matt Watkins takes advantage of several creative ways to make the same space different, including the way floor plans are mirrored in apartment complexes. And because the playing area (and, therefore, the seating area) is exceptionally wide as well -- as Swartz mentions in her program notes -- flat-screen monitors are installed above the set to let everyone on the edges see what's going on upstage, across the courtyard. During scene changes, the monitors show gorgeous, iconic Hitchcock clips, and that's pretty cool.
The script, in addition to being full of cheesy puns and references to other Hitchcock films, smooshes some of the trivia together in fresh ways. For example, Marnie's husband, Jeff, can't leave the building, just as Jimmy Stewart can't in Rear Window. It's not because his leg is broken, though. I don't want to tell you more. It's funny.
A comedy's cast is a huge part of whether it works, and this group is charming and reliable. Ken Bailes stands out as neighbor Robbie, who is probably not a murder suspect. (Things get really crazy toward the end, so who knows?) Robbie isn't the sharpest tool in the drawer, and Bailes' confident portrayal of him is the source of much humor. (I hope I would like Robbie just as much if he were a naive, distracted female character. I try to be fair.)
A lack of chemistry, between the leads in particular (Amy Serafin and Matthew Harris as Marnie and Jeff, who need to run hot and cold but are stuck on lukewarm), is a bit of an issue here, especially because much of the action revolves around romantic intrigue and marital issues. It's even more obvious if you can't stop thinking about the way Rear Window is one of the sexiest movies of not just the '50s but all time.
The plot calls for a lot of wigs that really are wigs, so it's unfortunate that a couple of the gals have to wear wigs that are supposed to be their hair (at least partly because the script specifies a hair color, too. Bad script! Bad script!). It takes me right out of my happy place when someone says, "Get me that wig I bought when I thought Marnie had cancer," and I have to think, "Gee, I hope it's nicer than the piece of crap that's sitting on her head right now." Yes, that's super-picky, but sometimes I can't take it any more. Again, it's more of a problem because the space is so intimate.
The verdict: Like Kerri Strug on an injured ankle, this production is still outstanding. It's really funny (I'm having fond memories right now of a butt-crack sequence and some other spot-on physical bits that would be plot spoilers if I described them more), and it's also nice and new to Valley audiences, which is nothing to sneeze at.
Wrong Window! continues through Sunday, March 3, at Cactus Shadows Fine Arts Center at 33606 North 60th Street in Scottsdale. There are now two facilities on that street that are the Black Mountain campus of something, so be sure to turn in at the correct one -- the elementary school that's farther south. Order tickets, $15 to $29.99, here, or call 480-488-1981.
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