BRATTLEBORO >> Shoot the Moon Theater Company's latest production derives its title from famed suspense director Alfred Hitchcock's habit of inserting himself as a random extra in each of his films. These playful cameos became so popular that he learned to tuck them into the first half hour of a movie to reduce the distraction caused by viewers searching for him in every scene.
Translating the master of suspense from screen to stage would challenge any director and Josh Moyse deserves kudos for this effort. One of his goals was to convey some of the master's weirdness. "Alfred Hitchcock was an odd man and it my hope that "Cameo" captures some of his strangeness," explained Moyse.
The outline of the story comes from an unmade Hitchcock film. Moyse described the script as "a collage from a couple of sources" that he "put into a blender." Moyse's blender worked well, providing a plot with twists and turns aplenty as well as classic Hitchcockian memes of mistaken identity, insanity, blonde women and brandy.
The play opens in a French summer residence where the distraught wife of a rich young man tries to make sense of his disappearance on their honeymoon. When a man who claims to be her husband shows up, the wife calls him out as an impostor. She seeks the help of a no-nonsense local police inspector who tries to separate fact from hysteria. As evidence mounts that the man is indeed her spouse, the young wife's sanity comes into question. When a local priest and trusted nurse confirm the identity of the husband, the audience's sympathies are yanked in yet another direction.
Moyses' staging of "Cameo" illuminates the difference between suspense – in which the audience knows something that the characters don't – and shock, which grabs attention and releases tension. Another brilliant bit of stagecraft reveals how differently we perceive film and theater. At certain points a fixed video camera on stage projects the live, moving image of an actor on a screen. The close up of the blonde protagonist's angst-ridden face—stripped of background detail—draws one's eyes away from her three-dimensional person on a stage filled with complex visuals. As humanity's obsession with television and smart phones illustrates, we are easily seduced by screens.
The cast includes many Shoot the Moon veterans, including Xoe Perra who plays the wife with unmodulated intensity and Jennifer Moyse who is perfectly cast as the unflappable inspector. Skyler Heathewaite capably portrays the husband while Jon Mack makes two convincing appearances as Hitchcock himself. Josh Goldstein is great as the dodgy priest, a character you love to hate. John Ogorzalek clearly enjoys his role as the goofy tramp artist as does Terry Carter who plays the two-faced nurse.
Cameo continues Thursday, Friday and Saturday of this week at The Hooker Dunham Theater, 139 Main St., Brattleboro. The show begins at 7:30 p.m. and tickets are available at the theater or online: shootthemoon.brownpapertickets.com/
Rick Cowan is on the board of directors at Main Street Arts and writes theater reviews for the Brattleboro Reformer.