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The Love Song of Alfred J Hitchcock

Revamped radio play for stage has interesting premise but fails to come to life, assuming a great in-depth knowledge of the director’s work.

Roberta Kerr and Martin Miller in a scene from The Love Song of Alfred J Hitchcock (Photo credit: Carol Rosegg)

Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief

Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief

The trouble with British playwright David Rudkin’s stage play, The Love Song of Alfred J Hitchcock, is that it started life as a radio play and it hasn’t escaped very far from the radio studio. Still a play for voices, Rudkin’s script has a great many introspective monologues by the iconic director but not much action, a strange choice for a story of a director whose movies are loaded with incident. The play assumes a great in-depth knowledge of the director’s work: such movies as Marnie, Vertigo, Strangers on a Train, Psycho, The Birds and Frenzy are referred to tangentially but remain unnamed. It would take a film historian to track down all the references but apparently the play is expected to stand on its own which will confuse many theatergoers.

Aside from the many recent biographies of the famed director, of late there has been much interest in dramatizing episodes from his life. Lovesong, originally broadcast in Britain in 1993, may be the earliest dramatic work to use Alfred Hitchcock as a character. In 2012, three films were released using Hitchcock as the central character: the feature film Hitchcock with Anthony Hopkins as AH filming Psycho, the television drama; The Girl, with Toby Jones as AH working with Tippi Hedren on The Birds and Marnie; and the French film Hitch with Joe Sheridan as AH at the time he was interviewed by French film director François Truffaut. New Perspectives, Nottingham presented the first performance of Rudkin’s new stage version of The Lovesong of Alfred J Hitchcock in Leicester, England, in September 2013 and has brought Jack McNamara’s production to 59E59 Theaters as part of the Brits Off Broadway Festival.
Juliet Shillingford’s setting for Lovesong is mainly a space with a director’s chair labeled “Mr. Hitchcock” and a rear projection movie screen. Aside from Martin Miller’s many monologues as Hitchcock attempting to solve film problems for unnamed films, musing on his obsession with blondes, and his lifelong shame at his large girth, there are flashbacks to his childhood with his mother Emma, two scenes in his office working with an unnamed screenwriter on an unnamed film project, two scenes of his widow Alma attempting to write her autobiography, and a fantasy scene in a dining car in which Hitchcock is accosted by a “Strang(l)er” on a train. Periodically, one of the actors as the Assistant Floor Manager (A.F.M.) defines various film terms but as we never see any film clips or filming, these passages seem incidental to the play.

Tom McHugh as the Screenwriter and Martin Miller as the Director in a scene from The Love Song of Alfred J Hitchcock (Photo credit: Carol Rosegg)

Miller vaguely looks and sounds like the Hitchcock we have seen on television but the play is too introspective. This Hitchcock obsessively travels the same territory again and again, but we never see the fruits of these labors. There are no film clips, only some scenes that are performed in silhouette behind the screen. The play is emotionally sterile and dry which may have been true of the man but it doesn’t make for interesting drama. Rather than the witty Hitchcock that narrated his weekly television series, we are given a poetic monologue on the problems of composing the perfect scene to create suspense or tension but which offer neither. Various names are dropped (composer Bernard Herrmann, screenwriter John Michael Hayes, film stars Ingrid Bergman, Dany Robin, James Stewart, Kim Novak, Tippi Hedren) but we learn nothing about them or their working relationships except that Hitchcock was cheap. His wife Alma has some of the best lines: she ponders calling her autobiography My Life with a Serial Killer.

The title is an obvious reference to T.S. Eliot’s seminal poem, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” Like the play, this poem is an interior monologue about a man who has feelings of sexual inadequacy, impotence, regrets and disappointments. Both Rudkin’s Hitchcock and Eliot’s Prufrock feel that life has somehow passed them by, and also demonstrating that they have been too cerebral for their own good. Both men have unrequited passions for beautiful women who have never given them a second look. Ironically, the poem is more dramatic that the play. The reputed incident of Hitchcock’s finally losing control and making a pass at the blonde star of one of his films is used as the climax of the play but since no names or films are mentioned, it is left to the viewer to fill in the details. The train scene being worked out at the beginning of the play and being filmed at the end is actually a reference to the unnamed Marnie, the last time that Hitchcock used a blonde as his leading lady.

Under McNamara’s direction the cast uniformly portray stiff upper lip Britons. Miller is rather arid and unexciting in the title role, but Roberta Kerr as both Hitchcock’s mother and wife is given some amusing remarks. One poignant moment comes when as his wife of 54 years she recalls how her husband turned so many of his actresses into blondes but never tried to remake her into one. Anthony Wise adds some dramatic tension as both the child Alfred’s disciplinarian Jesuit teacher and the psychopathic Strangler that the adult Hitchcock meets on the train. Unfortunately, Tom McHugh is quite generic as both the Screenwriter and the Waiter on the train.

Best known in New York for the Public Theater’s 1977 Obie Award-winning production of his play Ashes, David Rudkin’s The Love Song of Alfred J Hitchcock appears to be his first major local production since then. There is most likely a fascinating play in the complex life of the great director but this introspective and schematic play isn’t it.
The Love Song of Alfred J Hitchcock (through May 25, 2014)

Brits Off Broadway Festival
New Perspectives, Nottingham
59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street, near Park Avenue, in Manhattan
For tickets, call Ticket Central at 212-279-4200 or visit http://www.59e59.org
Running time: one hour and 55 minutes including one intermission

Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief
About Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief (403 Articles)
Victor Gluck was a drama critic and arts journalist with Back Stage from 1980 – 2006. He started reviewing for TheaterScene.net in 2006, where he was also Associate Editor from 2011-2013, and has been Editor-in-Chief since 2014. He is a voting member of The Drama Desk, the Outer Critics Circle, the American Theatre Critics Association, and the Dramatists Guild of America. His plays have been performed at the Quaigh Theatre, Ryan Repertory Company, St. Clements Church, Nuyorican Poets Café and The Gene Frankel Playwrights/Directors Lab.

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