BWW Review: THE 39 STEPS is a Zany Parody of Hitchcock
THE 39 STEPS is a parody of the works of Alfred Hitchcock. It is adapted from the 1915 novel by John Buchan and the 1935 film by Alfred Hitchcock. The original concept of a four actor version was by Simon Corble and Nobby Dimon. Patrick Barlow rewrote their adaptation in 2005. The play's concept calls for the entirety of Hitchcock's 1935 film to be performed with a cast of only four. One actor plays the hero, Richard Hannay, an actress (or sometimes actor) plays the three women with whom he has romantic entanglements, and two other actors play every other character in the show: men, women, children, animals and even the occasional inanimate object. This approach to the film's serious spy story plays entirely for laughs. The script is chock full of allusions to (or puns on the titles of) the canon of Hitchcock films, including The Birds, Strangers on a Train, Rear Window, Psycho, Vertigo and North by Northwest. In a way, THE 39 STEPS is like the love child of Mel Brooks' High Anxiety and Monty Python. The production now playing in Wimberley is a great piece of theatrical fun.
The basic plot is the same as in the 1935 film. Richard Hannay (Danny Mosier), a debonair bachelor in London, goes out to the theater alone one evening out of boredom. A mysterious woman in black, Annabella Schmidt (Elisabeth Anne Jean), fires a gun in the middle of the memory act by Mr. Memory and asks for Richard's help. They go to his flat where she tells him of the spies following her and hints at a secret that threatens Britain's security. When Annabella is murdered while Richard sleeps, he ends up on the run accused of her murder.
While on the run, Richard encounters a mind boggling number of colorful characters. In what has been estimated as approaching 150 roles, Kortnee Lamarre McDowell and David Bisett fill the shoes of Clown No. 1 and Clown No. 2. Their characters include a milkman, a newsboy, a cleaning woman, a train conductor, theater performers, politicians, secret agents, husband-and-wife Scottish hoteliers, traveling lingerie salesmen and the gamut of European law enforcement officials. These two display quick-change artistry changing hats, clothing, wigs and accents in fractions of a second. The two of them work together with the ease of a seasoned vaudeville act. Their work is nothing short of dazzling.
Danny Mosier, as Richard Hannay, is a solid Hitchcockian leading man, surrendering himself to the evening's delicious absurdity and to his character's vanity from the outset.
Even though Annabella suffers an early death, Elisabeth Anne Jean does not disappear. Rather, she returns as Pamela, an elegant woman Richard meets on the train and as Margaret, the wife of a man who lets Richard rest for the night. As Pamela, Ms. Jean nails the Hitchcock heroine: rich, pouty, petulant and put upon.
Director Laura Haygood has done a brilliant job with this material, infusing it with a manic energy and inspired physical comedy. The bit with the handcuffed fugitives is both complex and hysterical. Owing to the cinematic nature of the story, the set pieces are minimal and wrangled by cast and crew alike. Rather than a traditional set, the entire evening is backed by projected animation created by Scott Wade. Wade has done an amazing job here. (Be sure to look for the Hitchcock cameo in the mountains). Also worth mentioning are the lighting by Bill Peeler, the Sound Design of MacAnn Ross and the costuming by Susan Blankenship, all of which are top notch. I particularly enjoyed the bit with Richard's tie as he was running from the plane chasing him in the homage to North by Northwest.
While parody may not be everyone's cuppa, it certainly is mine and I was thoroughly entertained by this Wimberley Players production. Hitchcock devotees will enjoy spotting the homage to his other films. It was nice to see the Bates Motel is still accepting guests... apparently somewhere in England.
Running time: 2 hours including one intermission.
THE 39 STEPS, produced by Cara Mosier and Adam Witko for The Wimberley Players (450 Old Kyle Road, Wimberley, TX). Performances run through Oct. 4: Friday & Saturday at 7:30pm, Sunday at 2:30 pm. No late seating.
Reservations: www.wimberleyplayers.org or call the Box Office at 512-847-0575.