By all accounts, the iconic director of suspense films Alfred Hitchcock had what might be charitably described as a macabre sense of humor. Cruel might be a more accurate word; actors who starred in his movies have subsequently recounted such practical jokes as being handcuffed together, dosed with laxatives and locked in a room by Hitchcock, ostensibly as an “acting exercise.” Certainly the man had an obsession with the dark side of human nature. But might one extrapolate from this evidence that he was personally capable of the sorts of violent crimes that he loved to depict onscreen?
Joseph Goodrich, a contemporary playwright who specializes in stage adaptations of stories by such masters of hard-boiled mystery as Rex Stout and Ellery Queen, got to wondering about that question, and ended up channeling his speculations into an original play titled Panic. In it, a Hitchcocklike movie director named Henry Lockwood goes to Paris in 1963 for the premiere of his new film, also titled Panic, only to find himself under suspicion.
Accompanied on the trip by his wife Emma and his secretary Miriam, Lockwood expects nothing more than to enjoy another cinematic success and to bask in the adulation of young French film critic Alain Duplay. But when the director is accused of a hideous crime that could destroy his career and his marriage, he’s forced to confront the truth about himself and those closest to him. Lockwood, known the world over as the “Sultan of Suspense,” is caught in a nightmare straight out of one of his own films.
Panic was praised for its twisty plot and won Goodrich the prestigious Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America in 2008; but oddly, it has never been staged in New York before. That oversight will be rectified this week and next as the Department of Theatre Arts at SUNY-New Paltz presents the mystery play’s New York premiere in the Parker Theatre on the New Paltz campus. Assistant professor of Theatre Arts Connie Rotunda directs. Better yet, the playwright himself will be in attendance for opening weekend and participate in three supplemental events that will be free and open to the public.
Panic opens this Thursday, with 8 p.m. performances on October 1, 2, 3, 15, 16 and 17 and 2 p.m. matinées on October 4 and 18. Panel discussions about the play will be held at 6:30 p.m. this Friday, October 2 in the Student Union Building’s Multipurpose Room and Saturday, October 3 in Parker Theatre. An additional post-show talkback will be held following the October 2 performance.
Reserved tickets for all performances cost $18 general admission; $16 for seniors aged 62 and up, SUNY-New Paltz faculty and staff and non-New Paltz students; and $10 for SUNY-New Paltz students. Tickets can also be purchased online at https://www.newpaltz.edu/theatre or at the Parker Theatre box office, which is open from 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. For additional information call (845) 257- 3880 or e-mail [email protected].