05/16/2014 05:35 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Stage Door: The Lovesong of Alfred J. Hitchcock


The British director known for his mastery of suspense and twist endings was himself riddled with anxiety and self-loathing. Heralded for his film achievements such as Vertigo, Rear Window, Shadow of a Doubt and Strangers on a Train, director Alfred Hitchcock mined his own demons for his cinematic singularity.

A genius at visual literacy, the Hitchcock we meet in The Lovesong of Alfred J. Hitchcock, now at 59E59 Theaters, is tormented by dark fantasies and plagued by obesity. It may be overly reductive to assign cause and effect in life to art, though artistic obsessions do draw, sometimes significantly, on personal experiences.

Here, Hitchcock's obsession with sex and death, his own violent desires, his captivation by icy blondes, are used as a backdrop to explain the inspiration for Marnie, Vertigo and Psycho. The twinning relies on loosely connected stream-of-conscious narration and often-fragmented monologues.

Yet it is effective in capturing the larger ethos of Hitchcock as a tortured auteur.

As Hitchcock tells his screenwriter (Tom McHugh): "Sex scenes on screen, they're immoral. Why? Because they don't work. If they're faked, they're false; if they're real, they're not art."

But his films, or what wife Alma terms his "crazy inner life," are about crafting murders, often of women: Marion Crane (Psycho), Madeleine Elster (Vertigo), not to mention the victims of Frenzy. His impotence is contrasted with his violent impulses; ironically, misery begets movie gold.

Lovesong was originally a radio play broadcast in Britain in 1993. David Rudkin adapted his script for the stage -- and while there aren't many surprises or much drama -- it does take audiences from Hitchcock's childhood, through his schooling by Jesuits, to his Hollywood success.

Martin Miller is spot-on as Hitchcock. So is Roberta Kerr's dual roles as Alma Hitchcock, his wife and longtime collaborator, and Emma Hitchcock, his dominating mother. Alma Reville, a film editor and assistant director in her own right, met her husband at Famous Players-Lasky. She adapted The Secret Agent and The Lady Vanishes, among others, and had a razor-sharp eye for detail. All her husband's films had to pass her scrutiny, yet she kept a low public profile throughout their 50-year collaboration.

Hitchcock fans will appreciate the cinema references and the attempt to analyze the great man's inner turmoil in pursuit of quality entertainment. Director Jack McNamara has framed his bio-play with engaging simplicity, smartly capturing his subject -- and his famed creations. This is a contemplative work that can double as autobiography, since all admissions, however alarming, come from Hitchcock. "I can't live," says the Master of Suspense, "I can only imagine."

Photo: Carol Rosegg