HITCHCOCK LEGACY COMES TO SILICON VALLEY - ‘THE 39 STEPS’ IS A CLASSIC HIGH SPEED SPOOF
THE MURDER MYSTERY IS NON STOP LAUGHS AND INCLUDES THE BEST FOUR COMIC ACTORS IN THE BAY AREA
TheatreWorks continues their 50th anniversary season with THE 39 STEPS, fast fun and laughs is never more than one step away. The 1935 London music hall to Scotland’s most remote highlands is now on stage at the Mt View Center for Performing Arts through September 15. The romp is crawling with devious spies and fast fun clowning that takes us through the classic Hitchcock murder. This Peter Barlow adaptation debuted at London’s Tricycle Theatre in 2006 and transferred to the West End where it won the Olivier Award for Best New Comedy and ran for nine years. Its Broadway production by Roundabout Theatre Company was nominated for six Tony Awards including Best Play in 2008.
With only four actors re-enacting an entire vintage spy movie and assuming dozens of different speaking characters along the way, the peril is hilarious. Director Leslie Martinson and her crew both on stage and off prove sure-footed, insane, goof ball fun. Martinson says she has been a lifelong fan of black and white films of the 30’s, “I’ve spent this past summer watching Hitchcock films to prepare for our production for THE 39 STEPS”.
Theatreworks brings a keen company of the Bay Area’s best including Lance Gardner, Annie Abrams with the classic clowns Ron Campbell and Cassidy Brown. Patrick Barlow’s well-received 2007 comedy manages to be as much homage to Hitchcock as a takedown of classic Monty Python and Benny Hill. It makes us laugh at all those murder movie plots that filled our early days screening Hitchcock films. It turns luggage carts into train trestles and takes the steam from a locomotive and paints it into a foggy wasteland of a Highland’s moor. The table of live sound effects is sharp and so fun to watch as the bongs and bashes meet each actors gifted comic timing.
This production is a triumph for the Theatreworks production team. Longtime Scenic Designer David Lee Cuthbert has created a two level set that becomes the 5th actor. With its live clock that is set to real time and doubles as a screen is the heart of the set. The stage within the stage is perfect for the two clowns Camplell and Brown. The props by Cuthbert also stand out as the many racks, cases and sound effects table become a main element in the non-stop 2 hours comedy. Lighting Designer Steven Mannshardt and Sound Designer Cliff Caruthers outdo themselves in every take a bumbling scene. They slip right into the mind-set of the play, exploring the madness of the mystery. Delightful gaffes with a double blast of character changes and classic stagecraft are all eye candy.
The play includes many sly allusions to the Hitchcock legacy, and the production crew responds with everything from musical stingers from Psycho and Vertigo to visual gags involving birds, knives and even crop dusters. You don’t need to be a huge fanboy of Hitch to catch them all. But if you’re even a casual movie-goer you will find “inside” jokes to make you giggle out loud.
The terrific Lance Gardner is the play’s one central and unchanging character, Richard Hannay, who heads the excellent ensemble. Gardner fits the suave British action hero setting the tone for what is to come with his dry, British disaffected narration. Dialect Coach Janel Miley did a stunning job keeping all four actors in British form. The daper Hannay he is pulled into an unstoppable murder scheme true to the 1915 John Buchan novel and the 1935 screenplay.
The story unfolds at a time when the looming national German threat had not yet been given a name. The accomplished Annie Abrams is excellent as the intriguing femme fatale, later becoming the diva heroine of the mystery. She provides non-stop laughs, and provides perfect comic timing. All the other characters are presented here by the two-headed dynamo team of Cassidy Brown and award winning Ron Campbell. Both performers offer perfect comic timing of mime, nutty women, old bumbling men, keystone cops and vaudeville skills that grow sillier as the two act play steals the audience’s funny bone.
Martinson’s direction is clever and non-stop slapstick with perfect comic theatre magic. TheatreWorks is celebrating their recent TONY honor and has become the South Bay's most thoughtful and honored theater company. It is great to see them just letting loose and having slapstick good time. Next up at TheatreWorks is the West Coast Premiere of MARK TWAIN’S RIVER SONG begin previews Oct 2nd. For the Holidays the World Premiere of a new musical version of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE will begin in December. But in the meantime join the dizzie laughs at THE 39 STEPS, it is the best way to start off your fall theatre season.
THEATREWORKS SILICON VALLEY CELEBRATING 50 YEARS PRESENTS
The 39 Steps
Adapted by Patrick Barlow
Based on the book by John Buchan
From the movie of Alfred Hitchcock
Directed by Leslie Martinson
Must Close September 15, 2019
MOUNTAIN VIEW CENTER FOR THE PERFORMING ARTS
500 Castro Street Mt View Calif
Running time 2 hours with one intermission
TheatreWorks.org or call (650) 463-1960.
Photos by Kevin Berne