ADVERTISING AT CURTAINUP
Short Term Listings
BOOKS and CDs
LETTERS TO EDITOR
Writing for Us
A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Alfred Hitchcock's The 39 Steps
Set in 1935, like the film, this rollicking romp is a corker from first to last. Richard Hannay (Ted Deasy), a bored young Englishman, goes to the Palladium in search of diversion and finds more than he asked for, beginning with a hilariously beautiful spy named Annabella Schmidt (Claire Brownell). Then it's off we go, through lots of fog, pursued by two men who metamorphose into many (Eric Hissom and Scott Parkinson) and encountering Miss Brownell in two other personas, Margaret, a cowed Highlands housewife, and Pamela, Our Heroine.
Hannay does have an arc, which forces itself on him in the second act when he's maurooned on stage as the guest speaker and finds himself believing such platitudes as "Change is good!" and "You carry on! And it's pretty bracing when you do." Pamela's is more predictable, as she gazes soulfully at Hannay and snippily tells him off in the next breath. Eagerly she pounces on The Truth, after overhearing the two cops on the phone plotting her demise as well as Hannay's.
The two men, who play so many, are superb protean examples of the actor's art. They play everything from women to thugs, to a Scottish crofte and to a sheriff. How they change costumes in time to make their entrances is a dazzling puzzlement, even when they do it in front of us. One doffs a policeman's hat, turns his back, and put on another cap in lightening speed.
There are breathtaking pursuits. The first involves Hannay scrambling through a train, up on the roof of the train and swinging precariously from the rings of the Forth Bridge. A stepladder plays the bridge, but I could swear I saw it. The second chase follows Hannay and Pamela, handcuffed together, and fleeing the two heavies. Their perils include a shower curtain for a waterfall, a man on his back with legs apart representing a cleft, a blue cloth as a river — until Hannay steps out of charcter shouting "No, no, no! Put it down!" and a man as a vile thorn bush snagging Pamela until she slaps his face. The men fall in and out of the action, constructing a car out of chairs and playing Mr. and Mrs. McGarrigle, indecipherable Scottish innkeepers. Finally at the Palladium, when a mysterious shot rings out, one of them says, with bewildered anguish, "It was supposed to be a cast of — FOUR! "
Maria Aitken directs with superlative innovative glee. Peter McKintosh slyly designed the sets and costumes. And as to the four, one is one (Deasy), one plays three (Brownell) and two play everybody else without missing a beat and a breathless roar to them all!
Author's Note: This clever coup-de-theater had a long run on Broadway and recently changed its status to Off-Broadway by moving to an Off-Broadway venue in midtown Manhattan where it can continue on a smaller budget. This on-to-off-Broadway shift has also worked well for another long-running Broadway hit, AvenueQ. To read Curtainup's reviews of the show in London and twice on Broadway go here.