BWW Review: THE 39 STEPS at TheatreWorks Silicon Valley is a Brilliantly Directed and Acted Rollicking Spoof of Hitchcock's Noir Spy Thriller
The 39 Steps
Adapted by Patrick Barlow
Based on the book by John Buchan
From the movie of Alfred Hitchcock
Directed by Leslie Martinson
TheatreWorks Silicon Valley
Prepare to have your funny bones tickled with director Leslie Martinson's sparkling production of Patrick Barlow's Olivier Award winning smash The 39 Steps. Based on the popular 1915 John Buchan novel that introduced action hero Richard Hanney and film adaption by Alfred Hitchcock, British comedian Patrick Barlow adapted the current production that ran for 9 years before transferring to Broadway where it received 6 Tony nominations including Best Play. TheatreWorks mounted a wildly successful production in 2011 and now Martinson and her stellar cast get their opportunity to wow us with a rollicking spoof that quickly transports us out of our lives and into the zany world of police chases, Nazi spies, pre-war London music halls and the remote highlands of Scotland.
Set as a play within a play, our actors make their appearance in an empty theatre, bare except for the obligatory ghost light. Our hero Richard Hanney (Lance Gardner) begins the story; bored with his life he needs a diversion, something mindless and inane- how about a night at the theatre. Thus begins his improbable brush with danger, beautiful women, stolen state secrets and murder. Played with smarmy self-importance, Gardner is an amalgam of 1930's mystery, suspense heroes, skilled at escaping danger and wooing the dames.
There's plenty of tongue-in-cheek references to Hitchcock films (Psycho, The Birds, Rear Window) as well as the famous cameo of the master himself. Along this dazzling whirlwind of action, the cast has a field day of comic acting involving speedy costume changes, wild train and car rides and an actors dream of letting go and raising the bar of absurdity and hilarity.
Rounding out this delightful cast are Cassidy Brown (reprising his role from the 2001 production) and Ron Campbell as the clowns who play dozens of characters. Fantastic physical comics, the pair flesh out the plot with great skill and precision. Annie Abrams has the chance to caricature a collection of female archetypes of 30's women from the Mata Hari type spy to the various character roles offered women.
Director Martinson is no stranger to TheatreWorks, recently helming productions of the dramatic Frost/Nixon and the wonderfully comic The Four Immigrants as well as being the former Associate Artistic Director and part of the company's artistic leadership for over 30 years. Here she combines all the amazing talents at her disposal to provide a lush backdrop for her actors to play in. From Cathleen Edwards period costumes, David Lee Cuthbert's adaptive set, Steven B. Mannshardt's noir lighting, Cliff Caruther's smart sound design to Janel Miley's dialect coaching, Martinson sets a high bar for smart broad, comedy and delivers yet another hit for TheatreWorks 50th season offerings.
The 39 Steps continues through September 15th, 2019 at The Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro Street, Mountain View, CA. Tickets available at www.theatreworks.org or by calling (650) 463-1960.
Photos by Kevin Berne