An ambitious staging of Hitchcock's Vertigo at UNC | Theater | Indy Week
Pin It

An ambitious staging of Hitchcock's Vertigo at UNC 

It's a no-win proposition on the face of it: How do you conceivably trump a performance like Tim Curry's Dr. Frank-N-Furter in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, in which he reprised the role he originated in the stage musical? Or Kim Novak's iciest dark passion in the Alfred Hitchcock classic Vertigo? And if you somehow could, then should you? Or would that be breaking faith, not only with the originals but with a puzzled audience that's suddenly spending valuable show time asking, "Wait—was that the way it went?"

The questions are particularly germane in a month when four regional productions have been adapted directly from motion pictures or are forced to contend with major cinematic versions made sometime after their stage debuts.

By far the largest, the eager-to-please musical adaptation of the 2000 film Billy Elliot, closed the first dates of its new national tour last Sunday at Durham Performing Arts Center. Though Tracy Letts' BUG began as a stage play, the memorable version by Raleigh Ensemble Players, which closes this Saturday, follows after William Friedkin's critically acclaimed—but commercially ill-timed—film from 2006. The City Stage version of The Rocky Horror Show populated Raleigh Memorial Auditorium with costumed revelers—and horrified ushers—on Halloween weekend.

In the midst of these productions comes Vertigo, a stage adaptation by noted local actor Lucius Robinson of the 1958 thriller that's gradually come to be known as one of Hitchcock's—and the cinema's—best. Written for a class at UNC, Robinson's script impressed regional director Joseph Megel, who agreed to direct the work—and then cast Robinson in the lead male role of Scotty Ferguson, played in the original by Jimmy Stewart.

The resulting production has no shortage of effective moments. After an amusing "featurette"—a live "trailer" for Pig Men of the Martian Moons, an ersatz sci-fi take on The Odyssey—ensemble members race across and above the Swain Hall space to the tilting strings of composer Bernard Herrmann's main theme. This comes before they enact the gracefully eerie choreography of Leah Wilkes and Elizabeth Phillips, which suggests what one of the necktie scenes from another Hitchcock film, Frenzy, might have looked like had '60s choreographer June Taylor gotten her hands on it.

Robinson conveys the deepening obsession of Stewart's character, the retired police detective hired by a shipbuilder to keep tabs on his addled wife, Madeleine. But while Marie Garlock's dark, honeyed voice indicates close study of her predecessor, here this gifted actor oddly bears a closer resemblance to Joan Crawford—an interesting achievement—than she does to Kim Novak in the role of the shipbuilder's wife.

An ensemble of six fulfils a number of roles here, from the waves in San Francisco Bay to the portraits in a room whose eyes always follow you. They also suggest a Greek chorus, the judgment of society and voyeurs who, like the audience members, occupy a somewhat more morally ambiguous space.

Unfortunately, for most of the show this group is delegated the task of repeating particularly portentous lines of dialogue—a cliché from readers' theater that does this work few favors. Occasional flashes in ensemble performance include the triplicate portrayal of hairdressers and the fateful falls of several characters from Rob Hamilton's minimal, multistory set pieces. These are sometimes used to create memorable stage pictures, but their kludgy handling elsewhere resulted in a disappointing final scene last Friday. The company has indicated that this scene will be changed in this work-in-progress before the production resumes Thursday night. Let's hope the revamping conveys why Hitchcock's film concludes on the chilling note it does.

Comments (2)

Showing 1-2 of 2

Add a comment

Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-2 of 2

Add a comment

INDY Week publishes all kinds of comments, but we don't publish everything.

  • Comments that are not contributing to the conversation will be removed.
  • Comments that include ad hominem attacks will also be removed.
  • Please do not copy and paste the full text of a press release.

Permitted HTML:
  • To create paragraphs in your comment, type <p> at the start of a paragraph and </p> at the end of each paragraph.
  • To create bold text, type <b>bolded text</b> (please note the closing tag, </b>).
  • To create italicized text, type <i>italicized text</i> (please note the closing tag, </i>).
  • Proper web addresses will automatically become links.

Latest in Theater

Twitter Activity


I'm wondering why Dorfman specifically chose the Death and the Maiden quartet - deriving from the song Der Tod und …

by trishmapow on Forgiving is not forgetting in Ariel Dorfman's Death and the Maiden (Theater)

Most Recent Comments

I'm wondering why Dorfman specifically chose the Death and the Maiden quartet - deriving from the song Der Tod und …

by trishmapow on Forgiving is not forgetting in Ariel Dorfman's Death and the Maiden (Theater)

I'm not a theatergoer, so it was off my usual path to see this production. The small/ mighty cast approached …

by Aims Arches on A Superlative Adaptation of Virginia Woolf's Orlando Packs Centuries of Insight into a Fleet Eighty Minutes (Theater)

I personally am remarkably intrigued to see this production but since I can't drive myself to it I will sadly …

by Ryan Oliveira on David Harrower Lives Up to His Name in Blackbird, a Challenging Portrait of Abuse (Theater)

I wholeheartedly agree with the position that there should be more structured, civic support for the thriving arts community in …

by ShellByars on Common Ground Closed. Sonorous Road Might Be Next. Is It Curtains for Small, Affordable Theaters in the Triangle? (Theater)

© 2017 Indy Week • 201 W. Main St., Suite 101, Durham, NC 27701 • phone 919-286-1972 • fax 919-286-4274
RSS Feeds | Powered by Foundation