'Panic' from the streets of Worthington

<i>Panic</i> playwright Joseph Goodrich

Panic playwright Joseph Goodrich

​You could say that playwright Joseph Goodrich spent decades preparing to write his Alfred Hitchcock homage, Panic, which opens this week at Park Square Theatre.

As a youth growing up in Worthington before the advent of cable, Goodrich was able to find a special cache of midnight movies on his local CBS affiliate which aired classic Hitchcock films like The Man Who Knew Too Much, Vertigo, and Notorious.

He was hooked from the first frame and devoured everything he could find on the director and his films, often knowing the details long before he actually got to see them on the screen or TV.

"One time my aunt drove me to Windom or Rushmore, because this theater was showing I Confess, a film he had made starring Montgomery Clift," Goodrich says.

For the playwright, who now makes his home in New York City, those decades of study gestated into Panic, which won the 2008 Edgar Award, given by the Mystery Writers of America.

"The idea for Panic came quite quickly. I wanted to write something in the classic style, and Hitchcock--who drew from those plays for a number of his films--worked very well in that," Goodrich says.

The piece is not a strict biography of Hitchcock, or a story on his relationship with his wife, Alma. Instead, Goodrich takes elements of his life and fictionalizes it, creating a fresh character named Henry Lockwood who gets ensnared in a plot that could have been drawn from one of his films. (To play the couple, real-life husband and wife Stephen D'Ambrose and Barbara Kingsley were cast.)

The play also delves into the meaning of suspense and the role of manipulation in art, seen in conversations between Lockwood and a French film critic.

"My hope is that while I set out to write the classic mystery play, it is also a modernist play. The mechanics of what I am talking about are present," Goodrich says.

Goodrich pulls a term from science-fiction criticism to describe the work: "This is speculative fiction. It's not about robots and rocket ships, but is picking up the real-life basis of a situation and exploring it," he says.

That's also part of the pleasure of writing in genre. "As long as you fulfill the dictates of the form, you can write anything you want. Mystery is an immensely malleable vessel. It will contain anything you want to put in it."

Panic took Goodrich six months to write. "That was an eon compared to other plays of 
mine. Figuring out all of the mechanics of it is brain-bustingly hard."

He has found that all of the hard work has been worth it and that the play does have what it needs to be a thriller.

"If you write a comedy, people have to laugh. In a thriller, they have to gasp," he says. "That's the challenge. If you have a surprise ending, it had better damn well be surprising."