Panic – Review

PANIC by Joseph Goodrich IMAGE TWO by Benjamin Laird

Sasha Barry and Stephen Hair in Vertigo Theatre’s production of PANIC by Joseph Goodrich. Photo by Benjamin Laird Arts & Photo.


May 4 – June 2, 2013

Vertigo Mystery Theatre

Listen to my review on CBC Eyeopener at


There is nothing subtle about the nods Joseph Goodrich gives to Alfred Hitchcock in his 2008 play Panic, billed as an ode to the great director. The show begins with Mr. Lockwood, a Hitchcock-like director in conversation with a French film critic, unabashedly referencing the famous 1962 interview Hitchcock gave to critic and aspiring director Francois Truffaut. The play continues to offer up a robust checklist of Hitchcock elements from the one room setting to untrustworthy characters to the use of the iconic Eifel Tower as a visual.  But simply throwing a historical element into the narrative and jazzing it up with devices does not a Hitchcock-worthy plot make.  In fact, Goodrich’s distinctly verbose and relatively suspense-less script is about as anti-Hitchcock as you can get, resulting in a tiresome and lengthy theatrical experience despite some fine acting and imaginative multi-media design.

Unevenly directed by Mark Bellamy, Panic, reimagines Hitchcock as Henry Lockwood (wonderfully played by Stephen Hair), a celebrated suspense movie director. Lockwood, his wife Emma (the insightful Valerie Ann Pearson) and their secretary Miriam (Jamie Konchak) pace  grand Paris hotel room, nervously awaiting  the premiere screening of ‘Panic’, Henry’s latest film. Joining the threesome is Alain (a wooden Stafford Perry), a French critic and want to-be director in the midst of a lengthy interview with the great film-maker.

Problematic right out of the gate, Goodrich’s script does nothing to plunge audiences into the action or give them a mystery to hold onto. Instead of intrigue or even character development we are given exposition in the form of lengthy film discussion by both Mr. and Mrs. Lockwood. Henry exhaustingly tells us the plot of a movie he has already made and Emma tells us about a book that she’s like to make into a movie. I suppose Goodrich was attempting to show how the couple collaborates and creates, but it’s about as interesting as viewing the travel photos of a trip you didn’t take.

Finally the action begins when Henry leaves to attend his premiere and Emma, who is too ill with a heart condition to attend, retires to bed. Miriam, who remains awake working,  is startled by a French woman threatening to kill her unless she gets an audience with Mr. Lockwood. Liliane Bernard (the horrendously accented Sasha Barry) explains that she played a small role in one of Lockwood’s movies and that while filming, he raped her. Her proof she says are the letters Henry sent her  apologizing for ‘an unfortunate incident for which he takes full responsibility’. Now, penniless and with a child she claims is Henty’s, Liliane wants reparation in the form of money. The ever loyal employee, Miriam offers to pay the girl in return for the letters and the two women agree to meet the next evening for the exchange.  Miriam shares the scandal with no one other than Alain, who claims the girl also came to him to plead her case and they both agree to handle the matter quietly. But before Liliane can be paid, she is murdered and the Lockwood’s get a visit from her avenging  sister Juliet (a mediocre Sasha Barry) who spills the scandal and accuses Henry of Liliane’s murder.

All this action is terrifically echoed by Kaely Dekker’s projections that alternate between  a  glorious Eifel Tower skyline to moody, black and white imagery. Close up of clocks, smoldering ashtrays and tape reels from Lockwood’s recorded interview all provide a much-needed feeling of darkness and anticipation as they assist scene changes. Andrew Blizzard’s sound is less effective and somewhat jarring when going from the big screen to the stage but his original music composition gleefully and successfully captures Hitchcock’s style.

At first glance, Panic seems to have a solid enough murder mystery plot of sorts. But brought to life, there is little to no suspense or engagement to help the audience give a damn. Liliane is a wet dog of a character that frankly we are glad to be done with. The accusation of rape is a serious one, but at no point does the possibility of the crime really stick to Lockwood’s character making the scandal a minor one at best. Goodrich gives away his twist far too early in the plot (which I will not spoil for you even though  you will see it coming and probably not care) and Bellamy stages a laughably horrendous final murderous fight scene that manages to suck any and all the energy from this otherwise banal script. If this isn’t bad enough, the audience is forced to relive the tedious plot all over  again through Miriam, who as part of the ill-conceived fight scene, frustratingly recounts the entire play’s storyline. It’s as though Goodrich knew that people would be bored and falling asleep during  his show and would therefore need to catch everyone up last-minute when they were awoken by the onstage shouting.

Goodrich does manage to give the audience one perfect scene that has nothing to do with murder or mystery or violence of any kind. After Emma learns of her husband’s indiscretion the couple have a poignant and honest discussion of their relationship that surprises in its elegance. It’s a wonderfully quiet and thoughtful piece of writing that Hair and more specifically Pearson deliver with emotional expertise. Perhaps if Goodrich had written a different play with more of this kind of treatment and had left the pseudo Hitchcock stuff alone, Panic, might have actually captured something other than a fan’s weak attempt at homage.

In fairness, Panic did win the 2008 Edgar Allan Poe Award, given by the Mystery Writers of America. But to paraphrase the writer Charles Bukowski, often people see so many plays that when they finally see one not so bad as the others, they think it’s great. An Award means that you don’t stink quite as much as your cousin.


For everyone – Panic will bore you and then give you a plot that is neither suspenseful or all that interesting. Hair and Pearson do a fine job with the characters they are playing, but even these seasoned actors can’t bring true excitement to the play. SKIP IT



  1. xxxx · May 14, 2013

    Interesting how different people can see the same show :

    Vertigo delivers a sizzling Hitchcockian thriller on stage




    Photo courtesy Benjamin Laird Sasha Barry and Stephen Hair in Panic, Vertigo Theatre’s homage to the films of Alfred Hitchcock.
    Photograph by: Benjamin Laird
    It starts out as the finest night of Henry Lockwood’s career.

    Here he is, a humble (well, not so humble) Hollywood thriller director, being feted in a Paris hotel suite overlooking the Eiffel Tower.

    Not only is his new thriller being screened in Paris, but Lockwood is being subjected to an interview by Alain Duplay, a French film critic (played by a superb Stafford Perry) for a classy French intellectual magazine doing an in-depth feature about Lockwood (a splendidly elegant Stephen Hair), Hollywood’s undisputed master of suspense.That’s the scenario that opens Panic, Vertigo Theatre’s sizzling season-ending show. Written in 2008 by Joseph Goodrich, Panic is an homage to Hitchcock featuring a very Hitchcockian-style director caught in a plot the master director would have approved of.

    What unfolds on this night unlike any other is the sudden appearance of a young French woman named Lilliane Bernard, (Sasha Barry), who informs Lockwood’s trusted assistant Miriam (Jamie Konchak) that during his last movie shoot, Lockwood got up to some highly inappropriate personal business with her.

    In 1963,, anything that carries with it the whiff of scandal has the potential to derail a powerful man’s career, turning Lilliane into a human ticking time bomb of sorts.

    And thus Panic unfolds from there, as valiant Miriam attempts to make it all go away with a few well-placed French francs, but somehow a nice, clean, clear resolution evades her.

    I don’t want to go too deeply into the plot, as Goodrich faithfully adheres to the classic Vertigo mystery structure — lots of drinks and more than one scene where four actors try to look interested as the fifth recites a load of exposition.

    But it wouldn’t be a Vertigo show without unwieldy exposition, would it? (Unwieldy exposition is to mystery theatre what stuff blowing up is to superhero movies: a necessary evil.)

    All you can hope for is that the performers wield it well, and in Panic, whether it’s Hair, or Perry, or Konchak, or Val Pearson (as Lockwood’s ailing wife), it comes rolling off their tongues one breathless sentence at a time — in a way that feels quite plausible, given that we are in the company of a master storyteller.

    It doesn’t hurt either that all that exposition is leavened quite a bit by some stunning videography and excellent musical underscoring by Calgary composer Andrew Blizzard, who truly is the under-the-titles star of Panic (it’s a movie hierarchy thing).

    In Panic, Blizzard has gone back into the Hitchcock playbook to summon some of his most memorably creepy sound cues, which director Mark Bellamy utilizes to announce each significant plot twist. It’s nostalgic, dramatic and emphatic (loud) at exactly the right moments.As an added bonus, in Panic each orchestration comes accompanied by video projections (shot in black and white) that approximate the sensibility of a Hitchcock film, which Bellamy seamlessly weaves into the narrative.

    Goodrich’s script is a period piece that requires a certain amount of stylized acting, and once you wade through the thicket of French and vaguely British accents that sound like a Cary Grant movie parody, Panic delivers on every count.

    Hair, for starters, is thoroughly believable as Hollywood director Lockwood. He’s smart, stylish, elegant, secretly really needy, and Hair hits every note beautifully.

    Konchak’s assistant Miriam does an excellent job hoisting a lot of the heavy expository lifting throughout Panic, in addition to juggling the demands of being Lockwood’s assistant with a growing attraction to Alain.Perry’s Alain is fabulously French intellectual, a cad, a striver and a wonderful cinematic sparring partner for Hair’s Lockwood.Val Pearson, as Lockwood’s ailing wife, battles with her accent, but eventually wins, presenting a portrait of wife on the verge of being married to a master of suspense, and all of the moral ambiguity that entails.

    Barry, as a pair of French sisters, has to negotiate one of those French accents, and for the most part, dressed in a vintage early 1960s cream-coloured outfit that wouldn’t have looked out of place on Jackie Onassis or Audrey Hepburn, pulls off the trick.There’s a huge twist as Panic winds towards its conclusion, leading to a lurid, violent finale that perfectly observes the Hitch tradition.

    It’s a little long, and a little old-school, but so are those classic films that pop up on the AMC channel starring Tippi Hedren, Grant, Grace Kelly, and others who were Hollywood icons in the days when Hitch ruled.

    By transforming those old Hollywood suspense classics into a stage play, playwright Goodrich — and Vertigo — have dealt Calgary mystery lovers a winner with Panic.

    Vertigo Mystery Theatre presents Panic

    at the Vertigo Theatre through June 2 or 403-221-3708

    Four stars out of five

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    • Jessica Goldman · May 14, 2013

      Yes, Stephen and I have the utmost respect for each other but often disagree on the plays we review. There is a wonderful quote by Whitney Balliett, who was a jazz and book reviewer with the New Yorker Magazine. He said, “A critic is a bundle of biases held loosely together by a sense of taste.” To this I will add that there is no ‘right’ answer in theatre criticism. As a critic, it is our job to analyze a play with historical, contextual, pedagogical and theatrical elements in mind. But we also bring our own tastes and viewpoints. Which is why one reviewer can love a production the other is put off by. Neither one is right. The goal, at least my goal, is to open discussion.

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