Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Florida - Southern

The 39 Steps

Also see John's reviews of The Music Man and The Color Purple

The Actors' Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre presents The 39 Steps. Actors' Playhouse teams up with The Orlando Shakespeare Theater and Florida Repertory Theatre in Fort Myers to bring their co-production of The 39 Steps to the Miracle Theatre. This stage adaptation by Patrick Barlow is a farce based on the 1935 Alfred Hitchcock film adaptation of the 1915 adventure novel by John Buchanan.

The play concept calls for the entirety of the 1935 Hitchcock film version of The 39 Steps 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) other Alfred Hitchcock films, including Rear Window, Psycho, The Birds, Dial M for Murder and North by Northwest.

The first version of the play with a cast of four actors premiered in June 2005 at London's West Yorkshire Playhouse and, eventually a revised production played the Criterion Theatre in London's West End in September of 2006, winning the Olivier Award for Best Comedy in 2007. 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.

Set in the 1930s, The 39 Steps is the story of Canadian Richard Hannay, visiting London and bored with life. When a beautiful and mysterious woman swoops into his life and winds up murdered in his flat, he's suddenly a man on the run, trying to clear his name and more importantly prevent a "secret, top secret Air Ministry secret" from falling into enemy hands.

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. Leading man Michael Frederic is made the straight man by default. He ably carries the pacing forward. Deanna Gibson is more gal pal than vixen in most of her characters, but jumps on board the comic moments whenever possible. The show really belongs to Brad DePlanche and Brandon Roberts who play dozens of characters, handling the fast changes, assorted props, and ever-changing accents without a hitch. Good staging and lighting really are key in assisting the two actors always hitting their mark for quick deliveries before moving on. Actors' Playhouse uses the smaller upstairs theatre well to achieve this. The production is entertaining as both a theatre piece and an actor's exercise. Lovers of film noir and Hitchcock will get a kick out of the cinematic references and style of The 39 Steps as well. The production is just good, simple fun.

The 39 Steps will be appearing through June 5, 2011, at the Actors' Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre in Coral Gables. Actors' Playhouse is the nonprofit resident theatre company and managing agent of the historic Miracle Theatre on Miracle Mile in Coral Gables. Actors' Playhouse, which has brought home 66 regional Carbonell Awards for artistic excellence, is a Florida Presenting Cultural Organization and one of 22 major cultural institutions in Miami-Dade County. In addition to its Mainstage season, Actors' Playhouse offers a year-round season of Musical Theatre for Young Audiences, a National Children's Theatre Festival, a Theatre Conservatory and Summer Camp Program, as well as educational arts outreach programs for underserved youth, and has initiated a "Young Talent Big Dreams" contest for children in partnership with The Children's Trust. Actors' Playhouse is located at 280 Miracle Mile in Coral Gables, Florida. Performances are usually Wednesday - Saturday at 8:00 PM, and Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 PM. Information and tickets may be obtained by contacting the theater at their box office at (305) 444-9293, or online at

Clown One: Brad DePlanche*
Clown Two: Brandon Roberts*
Richard Hannay: Michael Frederic*
Annabella Schmidt/Pamela/Margaret: Deanna Gibson*

Director: Jim Helsinger
Scenic Design: Ray Recht
Lighting Design: Patrick Tennent
Sound Design: Alexander Herrin
Costume Design: Denise R. Warner
Stage Manager: Andrea Herbert

*Designates a member of Actors' Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States.

Photo: Tony Firriolo

See the current theatre season schedule for southern Florida.

-- John Lariviere

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