Regional Reviews: St. Louis
The 39 Steps
Also see Richard's review of I and You
The novel, which came out in 1915, and the first movie version (which premiered in 1935) can be a little hard to get through. Director Hitchcock "opened up" the film, taking us to a dreamy version of Holland for a visit to a mysterious, backwards-spinning windmill. But good luck getting beyond that.
In Slightly Askew's it's all re-imagined for the wi-fi generation (by Patrick Barlow) and, though it's almost entirely set in Scotland, the pace (set by director Kristen Wylder) gives us a mad Japanese game show feeling. Re-mounted as more of a farce, this durable intrigue enters its second 100 years in breathless and hilarious style.
This completely irreverent version, which springs more from the film than the book, may remind you of the re-imagining of Mary Shelley's classic into Young Frankenstein, though most of the gags here are visual, at the edge of the limelight. Still it's got that same wacky feeling as Young Frankenstein, with straight-faced Pete Winfrey as Richard Hannay, a bored Canadian whose friends have all drifted away. Then, he stumbles into an international spy ring, just before the blitz.
Hannay finds his adventure at a London music hall, where the amazing Mr. Memory (Carl Overly, Jr.) recalls the most far-flung facts of the world, for the entertainment of a local audience. His assistant (Ellie Schwetye) helps him to elevate the proceedings to a great clown ballet.
But somewhere along the line, a dark and mysterious woman has entered the theater, armed with a pistol.
That woman is played by Rachel Tibbetts, completing the foursome of speaking roles. Soon she becomes another woman entirely, and then a sunny Scottish lass, Pamela Edwards and Hannay's very reluctant partner in adventures across the highlands and the moors, by day and by night, through rain or through shine.
Of course that all serves as a sort of speed-dating ritual, culminating in a hypnotic love scene: in this case, one of those heart-pounding old movie moments, where the leading man and leading lady talk gently and urgently, nose to nose, for several long moments. And, yes, it's magical.
Before all that, Ms. Schwetye makes for a great satirical villain, once our hero's reached a mysterious mansion (he's on the run from the police, on a mistaken charge of murder, of course). Meanwhile, Mr. Overly makes us giddy in a series of guises, as a traveling salesman in ladies' underwear; the wife of the super-villain; and a Scottish innkeeper with an impenetrable accent, among others.
Presently the fastest, funniest way to kill two hours in town, The 39 Steps continues through November 14, 2015, at the Chapel, 6238 Alexander Drive, just south of Forsythe and Skinker. For more information visit www.slightlyoff.org.