|New Twists to Early Hitchock Classic|
|Monday, 05 March 2012 19:22|
Who knew that adding laughs (and subtracting actors) to/from a classic Hitchock movie would be just what was needed to turn the suspense drama into a wildly slapstick comedy?
Obviously playwright Patrick Barlow, who took the master of mystery's 1935 spy thriller "The 39 Steps" (adapted from a 1913 novel by John Buchan), based it on a concept by Simon Corble and Nobby Dimon and came out with Monty Python does Hitchcock.
It couldn't be more bizarre or more fun!!
Under the direction of Richard Baxter, the talented four member cast (plus four essential "stage hands") of the current South Bend Civic Theatre production takes on the film scenario at a gallop. Aaron Nichols is the only actor who plays the same role throughout. As Richard Hannay, a bored Englishman who longs for some adventure in his life, he is the perfect example of "don't ask for what you want, you may get it."
At the theater, he watches the performance of the amazing Mr. Memory and finds himself in the company of Annabella Schmidt (one of the three roles played by Abbey Frick, the only female in the cast), who says she is being followed and winds up in his apartment. Her safety is short-lived, however. She expires with a knife in her back, but not before uttering warnings about the "39 steps."
Hannay becomes the only suspect in her murder and, as the police close in, is forced to run for his life. The flight takes him aboard a speeding train, through the Scottish moors, into a Scottish inn and a castle, through a political rally and, finally, back to the theater. During much of his journey, he is attached — literally— to Pamela, a young lady who first refuses to believe him but then becomes an ally.
In this frantic chase, dozens of other characters cross Hannay's path. According to notes there are between 96 and 146, depending on the choices of the director and actors. Here, all are played by Matthew Bell and Mark Moriarty, listed as Clown 1 and Clown 2. But these clowns wear no red noses or floppy shoes. Rather in the course of the chase they portray policemen, shady characters, salesmen, German spies, Scottish innkeepers and vaudeville entertainers, to list just a few. And many within seconds of each other. The fact that several of these are women only adds to the hilarity.
The duo is adept at switching accents and attitudes to fit each of the required personas. Nothing fazes them in defining their individual characters. They slip from surly farmer and frustrated wife to evil German mastermind and slinky spouse with hilarious ease. There are too many variations to keep track of. All are easily distinguished and each change adds to the growing number of well-deserved laughs.
Nichols does an excellent job of portraying an ordinary man caught up in extraordinary circumstances. He has just the right amount of unflappable English poise mixed with a fine-tuned comic turn which allows him to handle the mostly absurd situations (and locations) with an above-it-all attitude which only rarely descends to the human level. Frick's three females are well delineated and supply the femme fatale as well as the innocent heroine.
Director Baxter has opted to incorporate an "On-Stage Crew" of four to serve as scene changers. They handle the involved requirements smartly and undoubtedly will quicken the pace as the production goes on.
"The 39 Steps" claims to be the longest-running play on Broadway and earned six Tony Award nominations, winning for best lighting and best sound design. Even this far from the Great White Way, it is easy to see why.
NOTE: Hitchcock fans may want to keep track of the references to his films both in visuals and musical excerpts throughout the play. We definitely caught five but others found more. It's all part of the mystery.
"THE 39 STEPS" plays through March 18 in the Wilson Mainstage Auditorium in the theater at 403 N. Main Street in South Bend. For show times and reservations, call 234-1112 or visit www.sbct.org
|Last Updated on Thursday, 08 March 2012 03:02|