City Theatre presents a jolly take on an old thing, The 39 Steps, a famed Alfred Hitchcock movie. That, in turn, is based on a less known novel by an English chap, John Buchan. Patrick Barlow adapted the stage version.
You may have heard about this and can surmise why it’s popular given that it’s a laugh-provoking send-up of a mystery-thriller. Specifically is spins off patently- contrived events in the Hitchcock movie as well as in the book. In fact, you could have seen the BBC 2008 version of the book earlier this year here on Channel 13. Despite everyone playing that straight, the absurdities make it laughable. It doesn’t need a parody. But you don’t have to know the source; this comes across as a characteristic parody of such items. You might even think, justifiably, that it looks and sounds like parts of Monty Python’s Flying Circus or Mel Brooks’ movies. Nonetheless you’ll be provoked to hearty laughter by new and generically familiar tricks, bits and shticks. In this case, the performances, live, become the reason for being, or as the Frenchies say “le raison d’etre.”
Specifically this take on The 39 Steps turns into such fun due to the physical business, through which the versatile cast, using minimal props, paces, swirls and gyrates, seemingly without raising sweat. The program book credits movement coach Trey Ledford. Credit director Tracy Brigden as well. Once again Brigden shows a true talent for comedy. Watch especially for a chase on the rooftops of a hurtling train, for a bumpy car ride over Scottish hills and for how one inanamite door multiplies before your very eyes.
Of course, credit the actors, two of whom, Tom Beckett and Evan Zes, take on heaps of roles, There’s no point in counting how many those two step into; how they do it becomes the delight. And I found Beckett’s take on a music hall mentalist especially endearing. Meanwhile Sam Redford convincingly hews to earnestness with a stiff upper lip. He plays Richard Hanney, a Hitchcockly characteristic innocent accidentally caught in bewildering, threatening events. And Rebecca Harris holds her own as several women along the ups and downs. Like Beckett and Zes, they keep their cool,
Indeed, the whole conceit is English in origin, continuing to josh and tickle English audiences as it has done for four years now. The Atlantic-crossing version went through its paces on Broadway from January 2008 to January 2010. There’s life in it yet; now it has a foothold off-Broadway.
Plant your feet at The 39 Steps through November 7th at City Theatre, 1300 Bingham Street, South Side 412/ 431 CITY (2489). http://www.citytheatrecompany.org/