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'Rear Window' adaptation by Emily Dix

Now onstage until May 31 at Toronto's Hart House Theatre

Courtesy of Bygone Theatre's Facebook page

Guest writer Peter Mazzucco

“A tight and tense adaptation without a wasted beat.”

‘Rear Window’ is based on the short story, “It Had to Be Murder” which director Emily Dix has adapted to the stage. Her adaptation is taught and tense without a wasted beat. She understands the genre proficiently to weave a narrative that establishes suspense skillfully, embraces character development, and touches on the themes of voyeurism and how we become who we don’t want to be when we are fixated.

Wesley Babcock’s set design is impressive. The apartment of protagonist L.B. Jefferies (Oliver Georgiou) is in the centre, surrounded by multi-storied apartments and tenements on each side. It seems as if we are on the outside looking in at Jeffries, who is on the inside looking out. Jeffries’ abode is furnished with white countertops and contemporary appliances circa 1940’s to 1950’s. The top floors of the surrounding buildings contain dazzling projections of live images of his neighbours engaging in everyday activities such as conversation, dancing and getting ready for work. Jeffries indulges himself by watching each one. The dynamic screen projections designed by Bria Cole provide a dream-like atmosphere to the set and facilitate seamless scene changes.

Sound design by Emily Dix effectively establishes an aural landscape that provides a tone to each character and room, creates suspense, and makes scene transitions cohesive. When the apartment resided by Thorwald and his wife (Simone Matheson) is the focus of scenes, there is an incessant rumbling and muffled voices heard throughout the theatre, which contrasts with the sound of string instruments in Jeffries’ apartment or trumpets playing jazz in the apartment windows above them. The productive use of piercing high-pitched sounds during Jeffries’ apparent decline into delirium and drug-addled obsession works to make us in the audience identify with his pain.

When I walked into Hart House Theatre, a noticeable feature of Wesley Babcock’s lighting design was how the stark lighting created an impression of solitude in an urban setting. Similarly to Emily Dix’s sound design encapsulating each character’s apartment, the lighting design captured the tone or nuance of each room. The apartment inhabited by the Thorwalds is often backlit to provide shadows and mystery; Jeffries’ residence is lit to give us a sense of the time of day. The lighting effects during the play’s climax are also very effective and striking.

Antonino Pruiti is Thorwald. With very few words, he sublimely portrays a mysterious and menacing antagonist. Pruiti precisely and smoothly reveals Thorwald to be sinister while maintaining an underlying charm, effectively producing an unnerving edge in each scene he plays. When he finally speaks, we are confronted with his true nature and intentions.

Charlie (Cayne Kitagawa) is a young journalist, and Jeffries treats him as a threat to his future in journalism. As a young man, Charlie has some naïve yet sensible views regarding life that challenge some of L.B. Jefferies's beliefs. He believes that Jeffries is currently viewing life and love through this “one window…this one lens,” and that is no way to see the whole story. Referencing Jeffries's exploits as a photojournalist during wartime and his need for excitement (Jeffries refers to his work and travelling as a “long vacation”), he Implores him to “stop looking for trouble in faraway places.” Jeffries reminds him that he is his boss and not his friend.

Kate McArthur, as Lena, is a young woman in post-war America who tries consistently to convince Jeffries that they should get married, and his response is he just needs a maid. According to Jeffries, Lena, a stage actress, is “lively,” “beautiful and talented,” but he doesn’t feel she can live his life. He has seen real things and horrific darkness while investigating and writing assignments, whereas Lena lives life on a stage that isn’t real, according to him. Lena resents Jeffries’ view of her and risks danger and her own life to prove to him that there is more to her than just beauty. Jefferies is amazed and impressed by her actions.

Oliver Georgiou plays protagonist and photojournalist L.B. Jefferies, now confined to a wheelchair because of a broken leg. Confinement and inactivity are foreign to him, and he watches the windows of the surrounding buildings to occupy his mind and his days. He seems to take pleasure in viewing the mundane lives of others day in and day out. At one point, he is reminded by his girlfriend (McArthur) that their blinds are open, to which he responds, “I have nothing to hide.”

The tedious tasks performed daily by his neighbours culminate in Jeffries’ listlessness, and he tries to convince his editor that he should write an exposé on the lives of Manhattan housewives. This assignment is banal in comparison to his previous work. The boredom is brief when he believes he witnesses a nefarious act committed through the rear window of a neighbour’s apartment.

When he cannot find conclusive proof to corroborate what he trusts has transpired, Jeffries recounts a hazy and distorted recollection of events to his girlfriend, his assistant, and the police. The facts are blurred by his addled mind, which seems to be descending into a state of madness fueled by Demerol and alcohol. His efforts to produce the truth are thwarted inadvertently by everyone around him.

‘Rear Window’ runs until May 31 at Hart House Theatre on the University of Toronto campus.

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