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“Actors are cattle. I’ve always said actors are cattle. In fact, Carole Lombard once built a corral on set and put three live calves into it, in recognition of my feelings. I tell them that, and treat them as such, and we get along fineǃ”
– Alfred Hitchcock, interviewed by Tex McCrary & Jinx Falkenburg for “New York Close-Up”, New York Herald Tribune (27 February 1950)
If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: I fucking hate Vertigo.
I’ve seen that film at The Castro, so don’t tell me it was how I watched it. I’ve walked to all of its SF locations, so don’t tell me I don’t appreciate its visuals. I love Hitchcock films with a passion (my favorites are Rebecca and The Birds), so don’t tell me I “don’t get it”. Oh, I get it – I get it just fine. Vertigo is a visually-stunning-but-poorly-written misfire filmed in the greatest city in the world. It’s the zenith of all of Hitch’s worst qualities – especially his misogyny – and deserved to flop during its initial release. (Hell, Hitch himself considered the film his version of necrophilia.) It isn’t his “overlooked masterpiece”, it’s his quintessential fuck-up.
But, credit where due, if anyone is qualified to helm a send-up of Hitch’s aesthetic, it’s SF-based writer, comedian, and classic film-buff Allison Page. Though not a writer for this KML show – this one is lead by SF comedian Molly “Fuckin’” Sanchez (as her official website and Insta call her) – Page, KML’s Artistic Director, often rivals The Chronicle’s Mick LaSalle in adoration of classic films whilst acknowledging their flaws.
That dichotomy is on full display in the show’s opening musical number, which transforms The Backstreet’s Boys’ 1997 hit to “There’s a body…” as a blonde in a red silk dress (Carla Lee, in the first-of-many wigs) is stalked by knife-wielding maniacs. The lyrics set up how the show intends to call out the sexism and melodrama of the lauded cinematic genius, and it’s a catchy tune.
The 21 sketches (not counting the opening and closing musical numbers) appear to divide into three kinds of Hitchcockian satire: 1 – the films themselves, with scenes hilariously recreated with comedic twists; 2 – the classic thriller genre, with the “Whodunit?” itself picked apart for its ludicrousness; and 3 – Hitchcock himself, who was – let’s be honest – an asshole.
Highlights include the eleventh sketch, in which Hitch’s screenwriter wife, Alma (Nicole Odell), tries to convince the old man to hire Sidney Poitier for his next film. This leads to Hitch going through a laundry list of bullshit excuses as to why he can’t be racist just because won’t cast the first Black man to win an Oscar. Another recreates Strangers on a Train as a musical (set to a certain Frank Sinatra classic) wherein Guy and Bruno (Tony Dicorti and Nick Hongola) realize the reason they want their respective women killed is because each was looking for the right man. Two favorites of mine include one where an actor (Ittai Geiger) “auditions” to appear as a dead body and another sending up Hitch’s need to conspicuously appear in his films.
The weakest sketch of the night was a recreation of Vertigo’s rooftop ending, in which the joke is that the actors recreating the scene merely ascend two steps. A Dial ‘M’ for Murder sketch (in which a woman literally dials ‘M’ on her phone to have someone killed) doesn’t quite stick the landing, nor does a sketch in which a fetishist Hitch (Hongola) orders a platinum-blonde wig for himself as he fantasizes about being one of his film’s victims. The recurring sketch in which the interrogated Norman Bates is hounded by the voice of Mother like a series of annoying voicemails also wears out its welcome rather quickly.
Fortunately, those four are the exception to a rather funny hour with a gut-busting cast. A running gag that actually does work is the recurring Jimmy Stewart (played the hilarious Geiger) unable to say a single sentence without succumbing to his trademark stammer. Carla Lee (of Nice Tan Comedy) practically steals the show delivering a wedding toast to Melanie and Mitch, Hedren and Taylor’s characters in The Birds. I can’t recall having ever seen Keyaira Lock before, but tv commercial scene as Janet Leigh – promoting a product Hitchcock should never, ever promote – is a great introduction to her comedic skills. Tony Dicorti spends a great deal of his stagetime singing, but once you’ve heard him sing, you’ll know why. After making a splash in Queering My Lobster, Nick Hongola continues to delight in this show. And if I recall nothing else from this production, it may well be Nicole Odell as the cameo-happy director of North by Northwest.
Though not completely flawless, KML’s latest is an hilarious deconstruction of a notoriously sexist artist in the age of #MeToo. It’s knowledgeable enough of his work to sprinkle the show with Easter Eggs, but self-aware enough to put his work into an appropriate context.
Hitchcock himself is often credited with the possibly-apocryphal saying that “the length of a film should be directly related to the endurance of the human bladder.” This show’s just an hour long and pokes fun at a lauded artist in the very city where he often worked. Trust me, there are worse ways to spend your time.
North by North Lobster is scheduled to run until the 27th of October on the mainstage of PianoFight in San Francisco.
The show runs roughly one hour with no intermission.
For tickets and information, please visit the production’s official site here.
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