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BWW Reviews: THE 39 STEPS at Theatre By The Sea

For the first time since its re-opening, Theatre By The Sea has extended its summer run past the traditional Labor Day close with Alfred Hitchock's The 39 Steps.  The company is also covering new ground by producing a straight play instead of a musical.  I can imagine that the production represents a bit of a gamble for the theater.  In my opinion, the gamble paid off.

To explain the evolution of The 39 Steps from early 20th century novel by John Buchan to a 1935 Hitchcock film to its stage adaptation by Patrick Barlow for a London production and its eventual Broadway run in 2008 would take less time and make more sense than to explain the plot of the play itself.  

But, here is my shot:

We meet our hero, Richard Hannay (a marvelous performance by Fred Rose) as he is settling into his cold-water flat in London for another hum-drum evening at home.  If this were a musical, he might put an LP on the record player and tell the audience all about his favorite musical.  But this is Hitchcock:  Enter the beautiful damsel in distress (Jennifer Byrne - who is a terrific vaudeville-style vamp in her many roles) running from murderers who may or may not also be policemen.  

Deserted bridge at midnight? Check.  Foggy Scottish moors? Got it. Threadbare hotel room? Of course. Wheezy pipe organ?  Early and often. Chase scene on top of a train?  You bet. Crop dusters? Done and done well.  All, or nearly all, of Hitchcock's greatest hits get a cameo in the play.

Fred Rose and Jennifer Byrne are joined by the delightful duo of Jason Parrish and Brandon Robert who play the roles of 'Clown 1' and 'Clown 2'.  (The name of these roles is perhaps the only bit of understatement in the entire production.)

On a nearly bare stage; save a few steamer trunks, floating doors and windows, a table and chairs, the talent cast create charming theater magic.  There is some brilliant sleight of hand and quick-change action as the four actor play many roles, sometimes doubling up or tripling up in a single scene. Much of the theater magic of scene, costume and character changes take place right in front of the audience.  This is amusing and sometimes really amazing.

In Theater By The Sea's current production of The 39 Steps, which is directed by Amiee Turner, it isn't about the plot, which is a fun and frothy farce - it is about the performances - which are fantastic.
The 39 Steps  plays at Theater By The Sea through September 18, 2011.  Tickets range from $34 - $44, and can be purchased at the Box Office, which is located at 364 Cards Pond Road, Matunuck RI, by phone at (401) 782-8587 or online at Rush tickets are available on a limited basis one hour prior to curtain.

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