The play concept calls for the entirety of the 1935 Hitchcock film version to be performed nearly verbatim by a cast of four. One actor plays the hero, Richard Hannay, and one actress plays the three women with whom Hannay has various romantic entanglements. Two other actors play all the other characters in the show: heroes, villains, men, women, children, and even the occasional inanimate object. This often requires lightning fast changes, and occasionally that the two play multiple characters simultaneously. Thus, the film's serious tale of espionage is played strictly for laughs, and the script is full of allusions to (and puns on the titles of) Alfred Hitchcock films, such as Rear Window, Psycho, The Birds, Dial M for Murder and North by Northwest. This farce is likely the dream of many an actor: shameless stereotypes, cheap physical gags, thick accents, and overacting all attached to a real plot. It offers plenty of chances to spoof the style, the director, the genre and the script itself.
The brick wall and exposed pipes of the rear wall of the set provide the basic backdrop for all that ensues. Doorways, window frames, ladders and assorted props roll on and off as the action changes locations. Leading man Christian Pedersen is enjoyable as Richard Hannay, and does a good job with pacing. Beth Hylton as the assorted women in his life needs to more consistently make some of her character choices bigger and more colorful. She is at her best in those moments when she is larger than life. The comedy that carries this show belongs to Joe Foust as Clown 2 and Andrew Sellon as Clown 1. Watching them is like watching exercises right out of the TV show "Whose Line Is It Anyway?." Scenes like the train ride scene, where they play multiple characters, show real comedic concentration, and personify the sheer fun and understated genius of this production. Lovers of film noir and Hitchcock will get a kick out of The 39 Steps. This production is entertaining as both a comedic theatre piece and an actor's exercise.
The first version of the play with a cast of four actors premiered in June 2005 at London's West Yorkshire Playhouse, and a revised production played the Criterion Theatre in London's West End in September of 2006, winning the Olivier Award for Best Comedy. In the U.S., the play premiered in a Roundabout Theatre Company production at the American Airlines Theatre on January 4, 2008. It transferred to the Cort Theatre on April 29, 2008, then to the Helen Hayes Theatre on January 21, 2009, where it closed on January 10, 2010, after 771 performances. The Broadway production won 2008 Drama Desk Awards for Unique Theatrical Experience and Outstanding Lighting Design and was nominated for six Tony Awards, winning for Best Lighting Design and Best Sound Design.
The 39 Steps will be appearing at the Maltz Jupiter Theatre through November 13, 2011. The Maltz Jupiter Theatre is a 550-seat, nonprofit, community-based Equity regional theatre belonging to the League of Resident Theatres, and the Florida Professional Theatre Association. This theatre employees both local and non-local Equity and non-union cast and crew members. The theatre is located at 1001 Indiantown Rd. (just off of A1A) in Jupiter, Florida. For tickets and complete information on the theatre's offerings, contact them by phone at 561/ 575-2223 or 800/ 445-1666, and online at www.jupitertheatre.org.
*Designates a member of Actors' Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States.
**Designates member of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society, an independent national labor union.
+Designates member of the United Scenic Artists, a labor union and professional association of Designers, Artists and Craftspeople.
Photo: Linnea Brown