In the spirit of full disclosure, I'm the first to admit that I'm a pretty big Hitchcock fan. I own several collections of his movies, I can tell you the difference between the silent and later versions of several of his movies, and will gladly discuss why I think Rope is the most underrated (formerly lost) of his movies. All of this means that I both love everything to do with the trademark British director while having very high expectations and standards about such things.
When I first saw that a show called The Lovesong of Alfred J. Hitchcock was coming to 59E59 Theaters, I was both excited and skeptical. By the time I walked into the theatre and saw a director's chair emblazoned with "Mr. Hitchcock" to the tuneless squawking of birds, I was ready to see what this offering from Brits Off Broadway Festival could do.
David Rudkin's play begins when the lights come up on our Mr. Hitchock, Martin Miller. Miller's Hitchock begins by taking us through what sounds like a treatment (a shot by shot description of the a movie) that is never named, but is recognizable. His voice is low and somewhat slow, though it has bursts of creative activity. As Hitch proceeds through various backgrounds for a shot of a woman in black heels walking away from the camera, he has a flashback of his life as a small child with his mother.
This quickly establishes a pattern we see throughout the piece: Hitch had Mommy issues. This concept is furthered as we realize that the same actress plays Hitch's mother and wife: the engaging Roberta Kerr. The world behind Hitch's movies is represented onstage by Kerr, along with Anthony Wise and Tom McHugh, who play various roles. We see Hitch working with McHugh's American screenwriter as they go on a Freudian flight of fancy in order to come up with a different kind of story and we see Hitch's teacher wonder why Hitch wouldn't want to receive a punishment immediately instead of holding himself in suspense.
The first act alternates neatly between scenes that directly relate to Hitch making movies and those previous experiences that informed those choices. It is here that the Hitchcock nerd in me was the most delighted, as the simple staging choices from director Jack McNamara used Juliet Shillingford's stage in a way that I think Hitch would have loved. Shadows, sound effects, and that famous Bernard Hermann music from iconic films like Vertigo and Psycho all work together to bring the mood of Hitchcock into that theater.
The second act, however, slows down a bit as it spends more time with Miller exploring Hitch's dark Freudian desires. Here is where the production stopped being as enjoyable for me. McNamara's direction lets Miller get a bit too over the top for my taste. I understand the benefit of peeling back Hitch's seemingly imperturbable exterior, but the other extreme simply doesn't seem Hitchockian to me. Stylized acting works for a play about Hitchcock, but when mixed with a sort of melodramatic naturalism, the two things together don't convey Hitch's persona or his movies to me the way I want them to.
Again, I'm unsure whether I'd be happy with anything other than a Hitchcock look-alike who could bring Alfred Hitchcock back to life in front of me so that I could marvel at him, and I found the show quite entertaining and clever, especially in the first act. I also hesitate to say that Alfred Joseph Hitchcock can be so fully explained by a simple Freudian allegory. Though Hitch's films have a firm basis in psychoanalysis and are often most ingenious because of their clear archetypes and plots, this show sells the Master of Suspense a bit short. I do not think this is the intention at all, and for the most part The Lovesong of Alfred J. Hitchock plays out as a wonderfully researched Hitchcock homage.
Despite these faults, I would say that this show is an absolute must for any Hitchcock fan. It runs about two hours with an intermission and plays through May 25. Sitting in the theatre is actually a sort of trivia game for super-fans, as trying to catch the allusions and jokes in the script is a great deal of fun. If you know nothing about Hitch, I think you can still have a fun time, though prior knowledge is definitely to your benefit here. In any case, if you were wondering, gentlemen, sometimes a Hitchcock is just a Hitchcock.