How can a show be moody and funny at the same time? Start with an atmospheric noir by master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock. Mix with a Michel Gondry-esque imaginative use of props, clothing and actors. Shake thoroughly and serve neat.
Recently moved to New World Stages, just “39 steps” Off Broadway, the show begins with Richard Hannay (John Behlmann), a Canadian chap with a stiff upper lip who laments the absolute, well, stiffness of his life. He longs for something meaningless to break the constant talk of war and elections. In the first of many winks to the audience, Hannay suddenly brightens as he announces the most trivial activity he can imagine. “I’ll go to the theater!”
On stage, Mr. Memory (Jamie Jackson) and his manager (Cameron Folmar) provide the entertainment that Richard is seeking. However, life quickly becomes more interesting than Richard bargained for when he meets Annabella Schmitt (Kate MacCluggage), a beautiful woman with a thick accent, a gun and a mysterious past. Trenchcoated thugs follow them back to Richard’s flat. Annabella is soon murdered, left with just enough life to provide Richard with clues and a map to a secret that could save or destroy Great Britain.
A sense of childlike playfulness and inventiveness informs the show. As Richard embarks on his journey to recover the secret bequeathed to him by Annabella, the four actors embody a dizzying cast of characters, transforming from train passengers to policemen to newsboys in a split second with the change of a hat or accent. The simple set design also works overtime. Rectangular trunks morph from train seats to the roof of the train to the inside of a speeding police car. From beginning to end, the production is not just a reinterpretation of the movie, but also a reinterpretation of how to use props and people.
The 39 Steps is a loving homage to both the 1935 Hitchcock film and the genre to which it belongs. It is lighthearted escapism with heart. The audience is thoroughly entertained. Which is, as Richard Hannay reminds us, why one attends the theater.
Photos by Carol Rosegg
The 39 Steps
New World Stages
340 West 50th Street
New York, NY 10019
In lieu of sleeping, Shirley Chan chooses to write, volunteer on art installations, design mobiles, make pop-up books and drink entire pots of coffee. Her work is published in The New York Post, the upcoming Scores Entertainment Magazine and several online magazines like the one you are currently enjoying. Please visit www.WhoIsShirleyChan.wordpress.com for more disturbing glimpses into her brain.