“Wrong Window” may owe its name and premise to Alfred Hitchcock’s 1954 film thriller “Rear Window,” but that’s pretty much where the similarities end.
The 2008 play by Billy Van Zandt and Jane Milmore, which opens Friday night at Curtain Call Theatre in Latham, begins with a man named Jeff looking out his window into the window of another apartment and thinking that his neighbor may have murdered his wife. That’s how Hitchcock started his film with Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly, but the movie was a dramatic thriller. The stage play by Van Zandt and Milmore is a comedic farce.
“This show has the same parameters as ‘Rear Window’ and some of the same characters, but it really goes off in another direction,” said Ben Katagiri, who plays Jeff.
Homage to hitchcock
“It’s a farce that pays homage to Hitchcock and some of his other films, but other than the premise at the beginning it’s quite different. It really has to be because it is a comedy,” Katagiri said.
WHERE: Curtain Call Theatre, 210 Old Loudon Road, Latham
WHEN: Opens 8 p.m. Friday and runs through June 23; show times are 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 3 p.m. Sunday
HOW MUCH: $22
MORE INFO: 877-7529 or www.curtaincalltheatre.com
The story centers on Jeff and his girlfriend, Marnie, played by Kathleen Carey. When the two agree to move in together, their somewhat tenuous relationship is threatened by what Jeff thinks he sees through the window. Unlike Stewart’s character named Jeff in “Rear Window,” Katagiri’s Jeff is not a photographer who happens to be bound to a wheelchair. In fact, Katagiri says there is little in common between the two characters.
“This guy, Jeff, is definitely different than the guy in ‘Rear Window,’ ” said Katagiri, who two years ago played another character, George Bailey, made famous by Jimmy Stewart in “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
“I do think there is a little Jimmy Stewart in me, and it was easy to channel that in ‘It’s a Wonderful Life.’ But in this play I would say no. Jeff is completely different. Jimmy Stewart is not in this guy’s delivery.”
Phil Rice is directing the Curtain Call production, and said while Hitchcock fans will enjoy the references to his many movies, they’re not going to see a Hitchcock-like suspense thriller.
“Except for the premise of them being able to see from one window into a neighbor’s apartment, and think they see a murder that may or may not have happened, it really is a much different story,” said Rice.
“It’s a very funny farce, with references to other Hitchcock movies throughout the show. I think Hitchcock fans will love it, but you don’t have to be a Hitchcock aficionado to enjoy the show.”
Joining Katagiri and Carey in the cast are Jed Krivsky and Sarah Wasserbach, who play another couple living in the neighborhood, Robbie and Midge. Also on stage are Jack Fallon, Joe Sears, Jenna Dott and John Quinan.
“Wrong Window” had its world premiere at Brookdale Community College in Monmouth, N.J., a place where Van Zandt and Milmore have opened many of their plays. Also an actor, Van Zandt is married to actress Adrienne Barbeau and is the half-brother of musician/actor Stephen Van Zandt.
He and Milmore have worked together on more than 20 plays, and while they haven’t made it to Broadway yet, they have been very successful off-Broadway and throughout the country in regional theater. Along with “Wrong Window,” their off-Broadway successes include “You’ve Got Hate Mail,” “Silent Laughter” and “Drop Dead!”
An Emmy nominee for writing and producing “I Love Lucy: The Very First Show,” back in 1990, Van Zandt also won the NAACP Image Award for his work on “Martin” with Martin Lawrence and the Prism Multi-Cultural Award for his work on “The Hughleys” with D.L. Hughley.
Van Zandt, whose acting credits include “Star Trek: The Motion Picture,” “Jaws 2” and “Taps,” also worked with Milmore in creating television shows such as “The Wayans Bros.,” “Suddenly Susan” with Brooke Shields, “Bless This House” with Andrew Dice Clay and “Daddy Dearest” with Don Rickles and Richard Lewis
Rice, Katagiri and Carey have worked together before at Curtain Call Theatre and at The Theater Barn in New Lebanon. It was also Rice who directed Katagiri in Curtain Call’s production of “It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Show.”
“I’ve been looking forward to working with Phil again as a director,” said Katagiri. “I’ve really enjoyed working with him as an actor, and as a director I like the fact that he’s very clear about what’s going on. He has a vision right from the get-go. He’s a director who has the handle on the script from day one, so it seems like the cast is focused immediately.”
His acting career didn’t get started until he was a high-school senior at Greenville, where he now teaches social studies.
“I played Seymour in “Little Shop of Horrors” and that gave me the acting bug,” said Katagiri, who went on to Elmira College. “So, I didn’t major in theater but I was very much involved in it every semester. I also took vocal study and music. I was very much in tune while I was there [Elmira].”
Along with performing on stage, he has acted in a handful of independent films done in the Capital Region.
“Acting is something I’ve always had my eye on, and I’ve always wanted it to be a part of my life,” said Katagiri, who has been teaching since he graduated from Elmira in 2005. “I love teaching, and balancing the two sides of my life, academics and the soulful side, it can get pretty busy. Going back and forth is tough sometimes, but helping kids deal with a stressful time in their life is very important to me.”
Blend of comedy, drama
While working on “Wrong Window” is great fun, according to Katagiri, he approaches his job very seriously and sees little difference between acting in a drama or a comedy.
“I love Hitchcock and I love farce, and this play is like a unique blend of the two,” he said. “There’s a lot of door-slamming and physical comedy in ‘Wrong Window’ that you’re not going to see in an Agatha Christie play, but you still have to be honest and truthful as possible. It’s still about getting to the essence of the character. In this show and ‘It’s A Wonderful Life,’ you try to produce a very honest portrayal of what happens in a horrific situation. Those are the roles for me. I seem to gravitate toward them.”