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 http://www.cbc.ca/eyeopener/columnists/ae/2013/05/13/jessica-goldman-panic/
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