Sex and power are stripped down and put on full-frontal display in GiANT Entertainment's production of Terry Johnson’s Hitchcock Blonde — a pitch black, dark comedy timed perfectly for the era of Harvey Weinstein and Donald Trump.
“GiANT Entertainment started last year,” says the play’s producer, Ryan Matthieu Smith, “and the point of it was to celebrate the others. We created a company that celebrated diversity, age, sex, religion, body types, everything.
“That’s where we started,” Smith continues, “and that’s our mission moving forward in the LGBT community. We’re outsiders, and we do art for outsiders.”
With Hitchcock Blonde, GiANT Entertainment is closing its iconic first season, which gave us All About Bette: An Interlude with Bette Davis and DIVINE: Live at the Boom Boom Room!
One of Johnson’s most demented works, Hitchcock Blonde challenges audiences to piece together connections between the ever-shifting power dynamics involved in sexual exploitation and empowerment through the last hundred years.
On its surface, Hitchcock Blonde is a juxtaposition of three stories surrounding the famous director’s use of blonde actresses in his films.
The first story involves a present-day media professor and a female student who are attempting to restore a long-lost film fragment filmed by Hitchcock in 1919. As they piece together the film, the story of the film’s origin and meaning also comes to light.
Intertwined in these two stories is the story of Hitchcock and a young actress who is given no other name than “Blonde,” and it is this story that sheds light on the past and present relationship between power and sexuality.
Teasing out the parallels between the three worlds requires attention to detail and a respect for subtle hints rather than outright explanations. This is not a play about strong men and weak women — it’s a play about the ever-shifting feeling of control we have when we are at our most vulnerable.
The play begins with an all-too-familiar story. It’s a story about a professor, Alex, going through a mid-life crisis who offers a student, Nicola, who is half his age to come away with him to his large Greek villa to work on restoring a lost film.
But it would be too easy to let it play out in clichés. Jeff Burleson’s portrayal of Alex gives the character a convincing awkwardness that will have you truly questioning the purity of his intentions with Nicola up to the very end. Playing opposite Burleson, Kayli Hessler’s performance as his loud and confident student delivers the loudest laughs and gut-wrenching moments when that confidence is tested.
In the 1959 storyline, Hitchcock and an unnamed blonde actress go back and forth discussing the place of women in film and society. As much respect as Hitchcock shows this actress, we must recognize that she has no name and she is being asked to show her naked body to a room of 30 men as Janet Leigh’s double in Psycho’s shower scene.
Robert Bradford Smith gives a pitch perfect portrayal of Alfred Hitchcock, not only perfectly mimicking the director’s iconic voice, but also giving life to Hitchcock’s eccentric personality and wincing reservations toward overt sexuality — a man who recoils at the thought of receiving oral sex but does not hesitate when asking women to strip for him.
Then there is the blonde, whose bruises and ankle brace tell much more about her home life than her chipper personality will let on. Nikki Cloer’s depiction of the blonde gives the character a real sense of confidence in the face of all the men who seek to destroy or exploit her body.
Indeed, the most powerful moments of the play come from Cloer’s command performance. You feel her fluctuating spirit as she describes the sense of empowerment she felt in stripping for the shower scene to her husband, whose icy stare is delivered by DR Mann Hanson, as he slowly removes his belt.
Then there’s the final story, the one being pieced together in a Greek villa. That story comes together in final moments of the play, but you won’t find any hints or spoilers here.
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“It’s such a weird mystery creep show,” says director Benjamin Lutz. “A lot of people don’t realize that it’s a full-on mystery comedy.”
So, don’t forget to laugh, but realize that there is always so much truth in jest.
As the murkiness of sexual politics is played out on cable news from Hollywood to the White House, Hitchcock Blonde’s thought-provoking depiction of these complicated relationships will have you pondering power and privilege for many days to come.
See Hitchcock Blonde through March 24, 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays in Franks Place at the historic Kalita Humphreys Theater in Dallas's Turtle Creek District.