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Review: Overdone 'Wrong Window' still creates laughs

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If you didn’t know, Theatre Lawrence’s new production of “Wrong Window” was a Hitchcock spoof when you walked into the show, don’t worry; they’ll make sure you do. The playwrights, actors and director all try way too hard to make the play Hitchcockian rather than relying on the natural laughs that fill the script.

“Wrong Window” adopts a similar premise to Hitchcock’s masterpiece “Rear Window.” Nosy apartment tenants Jeff (Brian Williams) and Marnie (Erica Fox) like spying on their neighbors through their windows. Good friends Robbie (Dustin Chase) and Midge (Alice Dale) like to join in, and everyone is gathering to go out to dinner to celebrate Jeff and Marnie getting back together after a year-long separation.

Before they leave, though, Jeff confesses to Robbie that he had an affair with sexy yoga instructor Lila Larswald (Sarah Bodle) while he and Marnie were separated. Lila lives in the apartment directly across from them, and she and husband Thor (Mark Kramer) are always arguing. A particularly fierce fight right before the dinner date and some barely glimpsed physical action make the voyeurs believe they have witnessed Thor murdering his wife, a scenario they become convinced is true when she turns up missing the next day.

Marnie is a murder-mystery writer and convinces Midge they need to investigate. Meanwhile, Jeff receives naked pictures of Lila in an attempt to blackmail him. The four main characters then become involved in hilarious shenanigans to try to find out what really happened, while making sure the others don’t know what they are up to.

It’s a fine comic premise, and, if it were left to play out naturally, it would be really fun. Unfortunately, starting with the script, the Hitchcock theme is hammered over and over again. Playwrights Billy Van Zandt and Jane Milmore apparently feel that starting with the basic premise of “Wrong Window” and turning it into a spoof wasn’t enough. Jeff is afraid of birds in an obvious reference to “The Birds” and, when some ridiculous-looking pigeons appear on the window sill, he freaks out. Thus, he will only leave the apartment after dark (when there are no birds).

But that forced motif isn’t enough either. Van Zandt and Milmore heap references to other Hitchcock films all through the dialogue with characters dropping the names of other movies such as “Notorious,” “North by Northwest” and “Dial M for Murder.” Most of these are clumsily forced into the script, and the actors emphasize the references to make sure the audience gets the “joke.”

Director Piet Knetsch takes his cue from this approach, further overemphasizing the source material. Every time the closet door is opened to reveal something dramatic, we get the famous killing music from “Psycho” and red strobe lights. Between the first and second scenes, Alfred Hitchcock’s iconic silhouette is projected onto the back wall and lit in a blood-red wash while we hear the music to “Alfred Hitchcock Presents.” Indeed all the music that plays throughout the play is taken from one Hitchcock suspense film after another... including the 20th Century Fox fanfare. It’s overdone and quickly becomes tedious.

Which is too bad, because “Wrong Window” has a lot of genuinely funny moments. The cast in general and the quartet of main characters in particular are outstanding at the physical comedy the script calls for. Jack Riegle’s clever set design lets us see into both apartments and uses the revolve to switch from one to the other. Oftentimes, what is happening behind the characters in the foreground is not only hilarious, the fact that we can see it makes it even funnier.

Travis Privat steals the show as the building’s handyman, Loomis. From the voice he uses, to the delivery of his lines, to the way he moves, everything he does is sidesplitting. There is a particular scene with him that recalls the old Dan Aykroyd plumber sketch from “Saturday Night Live” that is an absolute scream and is one of the highlights of the production.

Likewise, newcomer Sarah Bodle is extremely funny in the difficult role of the murdered Lila Larswald. She spends a lot of time onstage posing as a corpse, which is no easy task. Her expression never changes no matter what is done with her. A bit between her and Williams wherein he is trying to cover up the fact that she is dead in his apartment is another of the comic highlights of the performances.

Overall, “Wrong Window” stirs laughs when it isn’t trying too hard to remind you of its source material. It’s unfortunate so much of the production assumes the audience won’t get the joke.

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