Don’t “Panic”

Photo by Jack Wade.

The year is 1963, the place is Paris and you are a fly on the wall of famous director Henry Lockwood’s swanky hotel room. Everything is captivatingly commonplace until things go wrong, horribly wrong and you are trapped inside a horror movie come to life, but whatever you do, don’t panic.

This year the SUNY New Paltz department of theatre arts decided to hit the ground running with the fast paced Hitchcockesque thriller “Panic” by Joseph Goodrich. The production directed by assistant professor Connie Rotunda consists of only six actors under the tutelage of fight choreographer John Patrick Hayden. Auditions were held right when students arrived back on campus, and shortly thereafter the 5-week rehearsal period commenced.

According to Goodrich, the famed “Master of Suspense,” Alfred Hitchcock has enchanted him for almost 40 years. He said the play is loosely based on Hitchcock’s life and the people the director surrounded himself. The main character Henry Lockwood draws a striking resemblance to Hitchcock, and so does his wife, Emma, to the late Alma Reville. Even the character Alain Duplay is reminiscent of the French critic François Roland Truffaut.

“It’s a tribute, it’s a fictional representation part of the parcel of a lifelong interest in Hitchcock,” Goodrich said.

According to third-year theatre major and actress Melissa Shawcross, Rotunda asked Goodrich which Hitchcock movies inspired him to create “Panic.” During the audition process, Rotunda relayed Goodrich’s recommendations of “Dial M for Murder,” “Notorious” and “To Catch a Thief.”

“They were definitely very helpful to get into the spirit and style of the play,” Shawcross said.

Prior to the show, Goodrich and Rotunda had a working relationship. The playwright worked closely alongside Rotunda and the cast to bring his vision to life once again.

According to Rotunda, the suspenseful tale was chosen to be the first production of the 2015 season because the department was in search of a contemporary play, and “Panic” fit the bill.

The director also doubled as the movement director of the play. She found the characters’ real movement and body language to be such a crucial part of this tense tale.

She believes the main character Lockwood eloquently expresses her point best.

“There has got to be something going on, you know? Something real. Real behavior in imaginary circumstances — often rather far fetched circumstances, frankly. That’s what I’m after.”

Rotunda found the ‘60s setting had allowed the creative design team and actors the chance to work with a specific style. Also, as a mystery thriller with a romantic twist, it makes for a widely entertaining performance.

Third-year public relations major Renee Wallace attended a performance opening weekend and she found the twists and turns of the performance to be delightfully bewitching.

“This was my first play at New Paltz and it really showed the actors’ hard work and how talented they are,” Wallace said. “It’s cool to see your fellow peers doing such an amazing job.”

“Panic” will continue to delight and horrify in Parker Theatre from Oct. 15-18.