Seen at the Edinburgh Fringe earlier this year, Back Door tells a story similar to Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window. Now set in Paris, Tabitha (Laura Louise Baker) and John (Polis Loizou) live together in an unconventional household. Tabitha, a war photographer with a dislike for the frivolous, found the camp John on the street and took him in – he spends his Parisian days escorting wealthy men to restaurants and churches. Tabitha is injured and sits at home all day, reading the papers and drinking. Her temporary physical dependency on John adds an additional layer to what is already a bit of an exploration into queer issues.
Their courtyard apartment allows them to peek at the neighbours across, which soon turns from an innocent pastime to serious business, as Violette (Jaacq Hugo) moves in. The transgender video artist causes quite the stir in Tabitha and John’s lives, prompting them to question their own sense of secrecy towards each other; a lot of the time is spent pitting the stern and factual journalist against the flamboyant and dreamy man-about-town in witty but little to-the-point exchanges.
Off-Off-Off-Broadway Company’s work, now at the Tristan Bates Theatre, has its moments of lucidity when commenting on gender politics and the cult of personality – Violette’s life story is all smoke and mirrors, to Tabitha’s dismay and John’s elation. The bohemian lifestyle is conveyed if only by the many gulps of wine, morning through to evening. John’s fascination with the artist, paired with Tabitha’s apparent aloofness, is what the drama in the piece chiefly derives from.
But the show only becomes sufficiently evocative in the very last scenes, when Violette drops her guard as performer and has a heart-to-heart with Tabitha. It arrives too late in a show that scurries around looking for the quick laugh maybe once or twice too often, while the performances overall feel slightly less confident than perhaps they should be.
Designed by Eleanor Field, the set’s windows act as both the one apartment and the other, which is ingenious and works quite well; however, when John breaks into Violette’s to snoop around for evidence (there has been a disturbance and Violette is taken away), the marvel is exploited a tad too enthusiastically, causing it to reveal its own limitations.
Revelations, after all, is what Back Door is about. We get to know a little about each character, but whether we really care is another matter. Yet the atmosphere is well-crafted and some of the dialogue is sharp, especially where it concerns gender with reference to Hitchcock’s films.
Back Door played at the Tristan Bates Theatre until 8 December. For more information, see The Off-Off-Off Broadway Theatre Company website.