The 39 Steps: 4 Actors Deliver A 100% Good Time

27 04 2010

ASU Gammage presented Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps this month. Winner of two Tony awards, The 39 Steps made waves on Broadway and is now in the middle of a national tour. Here’s the breakdown:

Richard Hannay’s life is turned upside-down after a mysterious woman, claiming to be a spy, is murdered in his London flat. What follows is a hilarious series of events, as Richard encounters memorable characters and harrowing obstacles in an effort to clear his name and discover the identity of the mysterious organization known only as “The 39 Steps.”

The Monkey: The cast of four, in a word, was brilliant. Aside from Richard and the one female actress (who plays three different characters) the truly impressive performances came from the actors listed in the program only as Man#1 and Man #2. Responsible for all the supporting characters, from Nazi professors to Scottish innkeepers, train passengers to policemen, these guys were a delight to watch. With clever costume changes, pitch-perfect dialect shifts and precise blocking, the performances carried off the show without a hitch. A show with only four actors could fall apart easily, with even one weak link; but The 39 Steps had no such link.

The set pieces and stagecraft involved were original and incredibly effective. Who would have thought merely waving one’s coat in an imaginary wind could look realistic and be uproariously funny at the same time? The stage was a whirlwind of scrims, rolling furniture, miniature trains, window frames and movable lamp posts. Yet despite the hectic nature of the action, the audience was never left guessing what was going on; in fact, many times the scene changes flowed into one another almost without notice, a feat in itself considering the actors also played the stagehands.

The Weasel: The show rode a sometimes uncomfortable line between witty, visually inspired comedy and full-on slapstick. It left some of the more outrageous moments feeling slightly out of place, to the point of exhausting.

One of the most talented casts I’ve ever seen coupled with some of the most creative stage-work to grace the Gammage stage makes The 39 Steps a theatre outing you won’t want to miss. Unfortunately, The 39 Steps is no longer playing at Gammage; however, the tour is still travelling, so check the tour schedule and see when the show is coming to your town.

4 Death Stars out of 5

What do you think? Did you enjoy the show? How many Hitchcock inside jokes did you catch? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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