Espionage Thriller Meets Benny Hill, San Jose Stage Company brings Hitchcock Zany Non Stop Laughs.
Alfred Hitchcock's classic "The 39 Steps" launched him into fame, an anti-hero Richard Hannay became one of Hitch's classic leads. The references to his original icon is the hilarious part of San Jose Stage Company's production of "The 39 Steps" playing through Dec. 20 at their 1st street stage. This pure spoof is adapted by Patrick Barlow from Hitchcock's movie, an earlier version by Simon Corble and Nobby Dimon and the original novel by John Buchan and staged by resident SJSC director Ken Kelleher. “Comedies like The 39 Steps showcase the complexity of the actors’ craft. The theatricality demands inventiveness, only works with an exceptionally talented company like we’ve assembled here. The individual virtuoso performances, combined with the timing and teamwork for this show is absolutely critical and it’s what is so brilliant about these actors - audiences are truly in for a hilariously good time.” said Kelleher.
Kelleher is correct, this romp ‘Whodunnit’ is a fast paced evening of laughs that plays off of Hitchcock's film. It is a madcap tour de farce with four talented comic actors that cover just about all of the British puns in about two hours. The pre WWII angst set off rumors of spies in a paranoid England. The hijinks is excellent fun with this shining cast of comic performers. Cassidy Brown plays the handsome confused hero, Richard Hannay, who learns about a plot of international espionage from a mysteriously beautiful, female spy. But when she’s killed in his flat, he suddenly finds himself caught up in a race from London to Scotland in hopes of stopping military secrets from being smuggled out of the country. As he searches for the secret of “The 39 Steps,” he is relentlessly pursued by the police who believe he is the murderer. Three of the female roles are performed by the very versatile Allison F. Rich (The Addams Family, Venus in Fur), and the very funny Keith Pinto (Clown 1) and the master of many characters Edward Hightower (Clown 2), most recently seen in The Addams Family. The countless costume changes from camp drag queens to pompous detectives keeps this show moving and very “Monty Python”.
Brown's performance is stellar and his non-stop timing and sitcom magic kept this show very funny. Brown first appeared in Theatre Works production in Mt. View Ca., he has toned this character to its crisp perfection. But Hightower and Pinto are the highlight of this four actor team playing many roles with clever accents. Their comic stage timing is impeccable and hilarious from their many costume changes and prat falls, to their dancing and sheer clown vaudeville slapstick, these two are fun to watch. The only female in this romp Allison Rich who is the perfect Hitchcock blonde named Pam who spends most of the final act attached to Richard in handcuffs, their comedic timing and emerging love is another favorite part of the show.
The props by Rich Ortenblad do well as stuffed bodies fly across the SJSC stage along with “The North by Northwest” hand crafted airplanes. The sound effects by Christopher Graham and John Koss, are perfect. Their sound design is important in this spoof since gunfire and screams are stepped up to keep the sold out opening night crowd giggling all night. The set by Ortenblad mostly on wheels as windows, ladders and doors fly by revealing a set within a set on a stage Hannay creates for this adventure. The video and film clips are projected behind the fast comic action bringing home Hitche's best clips from “The Birds” the iconic “North by Northwest” and others. The lighting by John Bernard spills into every corner of the SJSC performance space as the set extends into the the upper wings; his mood is spot on. Abra Berman’s costumes are classic trench coats and motley dresses for the Clowns and provocative gowns for the hustler and glee of the women that Allison Rich transforms into.
The story is “over the top” zany fun yet can be hard to follow. The Hitchcock jokes are non-stop and will keep you giggling. Kelleher's direction has a loose feel to it, he lets his actors breathe with the range of comedy, slapstick and prat falls he brings to this mystery meets Benny Hill. Opening night the laughs were constant even when some of jokes fell flat; this company brings an entertaining evening of Hitchcock's classic brilliance. “The 39 Steps” is a great evening of laughs and the perfect tribute to HItchcock. It is a sure bet to fill out your holiday theatre season, and to celebrate the end of 2015. The San Jose Stage company now in its 33rd award winning season has a great line up for 2016. Please check out the link below and look for senior discounts and rush tickets for this run. Next up for this company is Luis Valdez World Premiere of VALLEY OF THE HEART.
The San Jose Stage Company presents
The 39 Steps
It’s a Thrilling Holiday Treat for the Entire Family!
Adapted by Patrick Barlow
Based on novel by John Buchan
From movie by Alfred Hitchcock
Directed by Kenneth Kelleher
Through – December 20, 2015
San Jose Stage, 490 S. First St.
Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes, with intermission
408-283-7142, click here for tickets > www.thestage.org
Photos by: Dave Lepori