by Everett Goldner · May 8, 2014
Lights down. Lights up, and there the man sits, in all his monumental bulk. Head of an egg, his expression, as always in life, that of a faintly disapproving land surveyor. The chair turned 180 degrees, he faces us directly. Daring us, like Prufrock’s eternal footman, to snicker.
He speaks, in magisterial tones:
Black hair, long; back of a woman’s head.
Passing from us…
Black… suit, high shoulders, black…
Stockings, black back seam…
Black high heels, sound of them, tap, tap, tap…”
As he speaks, he traces the woman’s silhouette, and her movement, and what is to come, in the air with his fingers. And so, as always in life, the master of suspense begins to enact his visions, not somewhere out in the ether, but on us. Inside of us.
It’s a reversal of which I’m sure Hitchcock would have approved. And there’s little in Lovesong, which plays through May 25th at 59 E 59 Theater as part of the Brits Off Broadway festival, which one cannot imagine the man himself ruminating on impassively before giving a brisk nod of approval to. 59 E 59, which tends to attract older audiences, is no doubt aware of this; a quick survey of the audience before the show told me that 80 percent of them were in their fifties or older, 18 percent were in their forties and two or three folks in the back were my age. (30s or younger.) This is an audience that might have seen Psycho or The Birds in the theater on first release; the couple next to me spent all of preshow chatting about Psycho trivia – Bernard Hermann’s salary, the shower scene originally had no music, etc. These are people who will be satisfied with naught but the genuine article; it is not given to them (as it was to me the instant I first saw the title) to hear dimly the peppy xylophone theme to Alfred Hitchcock Presents, which is part of a pop culture stew into which you could easily throw Tales From The Crypt, Ed Wood (the man or the Tim Burton film, take your pick) Elvira and the Evil Dead trilogy. No, these folks came to the theater for the Hitch and nothing but the Hitch, and they got it; the chatty preshow couple sat through the two-hour show silent, wide-eyed and rapt. (The show wisely discards Presents, just as it makes no mention of anything that does not give a window into the man’s psyche. Like the couple, I was surprised at how engrossed I became, and how as intermission arrived I felt that no time had passed at all.)
This show is essentially one part commentary (as both Hitch’s wife and mother, actress Roberta Kerr delivers some quality monologues shorn of sentimentality as she considers what to write after his death: “’artist of anxiety?’ ‘None of that’, he’d say, ‘none of that; a popular entertainer, fixing film together to create fright…’”) one part black insight and one part pitch-perfect deadpan humor. (If you think Hitchcock wasn’t funny, watch him punctually telling his screenwriter, “I have no cock” as he demonstrates how to layer character motivation, or muttering “God spare me strangers on trains” as a dandy approaches his dining booth.)
In the end, though, the show approaches tragedy as the myriad of ways in which the man could not – could not allow himself – to touch the world and the people in it, are revealed one by one. These are perhaps better experienced than touched on in a review; in the end, we’re left with the sight of the Great Man once more firmly fixed in his chair, his wife beside him as he suffers and sheds the humiliation of an inevitably rebuffed sexual advance toward his leading actress. The Great Man beckons towards his camera. “You and I, we’ll make a loveliness. We’ll give them dreams,” he promises his only true lover. “On,” he intones, as the crew steps aside to let him work. From beginning to end, Love Song does the same.