Poor Alfred Hitchcock. Now that we've got pay-per-view webcams, tell-all online diaries and more-real-than-reality TV, his seedy little story about a guy peeping on his neighbors seems almost wholesome by comparison. At least he was taking an interest in his community, right?
But a little nostalgia never hurt anyone, and Voyeur, the Hunger Artists adaptation of Rear Window, takes us back to a time when being a sicko was—like everything else—a little simpler. It's not the scathing indictment of the current creep-culture it could be, but director Melissa Petro's faithful homage to that jowly genius transfers thrills and chills mostly intact from the silver screen to the stage.
You probably already know the plot: a housebound photographer kills time by spying on his neighbors. It's all good, sick fun until he sees one of them killing more than time.
Wisely, Petro plays her adaptation very straight, leaving it to Hitchcock's still-alive-and-kicking material to carry the subtext of the play and concentrating on crafting a vessel for Hitch's vision. John Beane as sweaty invalid L.B. Jeffries and Larissa Cahill as spunky girl-about-town Lisa Fremont are spot-on with their fusty '50s mannerisms, and Petro's set design lends itself to the window-as-movie-screen conceits of the original.
Indeed, this production is all subtlety, probably as Hitchcock would have preferred. It's an eerily picture-perfect adaptation of the film first and a low-key indictment of the human weakness for peeking second. Maybe there was a missed opportunity here, a chance to really amp up the play and take a few desperately needed jabs at a culture more depravedly voyeuristic than anything the 1950s auteurs ever conceived. (By the way, did anyone tape the last Chains of Love?) But then again, why tamper with the masters? That Petro can stage a story everyone basically knows and nonetheless tease a horrified gasp or two out of an audience is a credit both to her measured approach and Hitchcock's talent. Rear Window still has something to show this nation of perverts. With Voyeur, Petro stays in the shadows to make sure we see it.
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Voyeur at Hunger Artists Theater, 204 E. Fourth St., Ste. I, Santa Ana, (714) 547-9100. Fri.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; Sun., 7:30 p.m. Through June 24. $12; $10 with reservation.