It’s 1935 London. In his comfortable Portland Place flat, listless Richard Hannay ( Ted Deasy) unwittingly makes a seemingly small decision that will thrust him into a life-or-death adventure; he decides to attend the theater. While attending the performance featuring Mr. Memory ( Eric Hissom), a photographic memory expert, he makes a fast acquaintance with Annabella Schmidt ( Claire Brownell), who persuades him to take her home with him.
Annabella confesses that she is a spy that she is on the brink of uncovering a conspiracy to steal British military secrets which she knows only as “the 39 steps”, and Hannay could identify the mastermind of the conspiracy by his half-pinkie. Reluctant, but momentarily persuaded that she is being followed by "bad guys", Hannay allows her to spend the night in his flat. Unfortunately, she is inconveniently killed during the night, mysteriously stabbed in the back no less.
Convinced that he has inherited Annabella’s peril and armed with a map, Hannay ventures out to Scotland. It is on the train that Hannay discovers that he is the subject of a massive manhunt. He is wanted for Annabella’s murder. He eludes the police on the train until a beautiful traveler named Pamela recognizes him from the newspaper and given him up to the police. A dangerous pursuit ensues, ending with Hannay leaping from first the train and then eventually from a bridge, making a narrow escape.
Hannay will evade capture by hiding out at a farm where he is aided by yet another beautiful girl, Margaret (also Brownell) despite her suspicious farmer husband. Once he finally arrives in Scotland, he will eventually meet Professor Jordan ( Scott Parkinson), the man with half a Pinkie finger. Jordan quickly figures out that Annabella has told Hannay everything and he tries once again to kill Hannay. Hannay miraculously escapes the attempt on his life, and finds himself once again on the run from spies and from the law, this time handcuffed to Pamela (also Brownell), the beautiful girl from the train who thinks he is a murderer.
Tony Award nominated Director Maria Aitken has successfully transplanted the brilliance of the Broadway production to the incarnation currently running at the Ahmanson Theater in downtown Los Angeles. The production utilizes a sparse collection of set pieces and then challenges the imagination to engage in the world created by the quartet’s tireless Pantomime, a ridiculously self-deprecating Shadow puppet displays and suspenseful intrigue, rapped neatly in a bow of terrific comic timing and giddily melodramatic performances.
Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps possesses the deliciously element of being self-aware. Throughout the show, there are smartly timed hints that this is perhaps a play within a play, much in the spirit of Michael Frayn’s Noises Off. The performers in the production are acutely aware of the presence of the audience, aware of each over-indulgent performance, and moreover, the performers acknowledge, both subtly and openly, every gaffe and miscalculation that happens on stage. As a rabid advocate for the preservation of the fourth wall, I found each “violation” of the convention to be prudent and masterfully timed within the story’s dramatic arc.
The Patrick Barlow stage adaptation of the 1935 film (novel by John Buchan, 1915) is riddle with scripted references, puns and Hitchcockian iconography, an overt homage to Alfred Hitchcock himself. This production however, is an ovation dedicated to the exercise of “suspension of disbelief”. This show is farce on acid. Lead Ted Deasy, who is on stage virtually the entire performance, is an extremely liakble, energetic centerpiece for the show. Claire Brownell credibly portraits femme fatale, farmer's wife and blonde bombshell with equal measures of skill, humor and sex appeal. The balance of the company, which includes Eric Hissom and Scott Parkinson, effortlessly shape-shifting gender and character to essential inanimate object while performing lightning fast costume changes (and that last bit was an understatement.)
Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps is by no means just another bland, noir thriller it appears to be at first glance. It is infact a stylishly clever, period spy adventure. It’s fast, it’s funny and it is extremely family friendly. From the first light cue, this show will launch you into a great adventure and a great ride. I highly recommend you catch it before it’s gone.
Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps is running no through May 15, 2010 at
At the Music Center
135 N. Grand Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Ticket Information: 213-628-2772
Photos by: Craig Schwartz