Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

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note: entire contents copyright 2007 by Carl A. Rossi


adapted by Patrick Barlow
based on an original concept by Simon Corble and Nobby Dimon,
based on the book by John Buchan
directed by Maria Aitken
original movement created by Toby Sedgwick
additional movement created by Christopher Bayes

Richard Hannay … Charles Edwards
Annabella Schmidt; Pamela; Margaret … Jennifer Ferrin
Clown … Arnie Burton
Clown … Cliff Saunders

When I went to London, this past March, I kept an e-journal. On Thursday, 23 March, I typed:

“Off to Piccadilly Circus for the acclaimed THE 39 STEPS at the Criterion Theatre, a small, charming period-style theatre with side boxes, etc. Inside, three actors and one actress cleverly acted out a dramatization of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1939 thriller-classic of an innocent man on the run for a murder he didn’t commit as well as trying to keep top secret information from being leaked to an enemy country; a woman he met on a train ended up handcuffed with him but together they stopped the forces of evil and fell in love along the way. I enjoyed it all greatly despite three reservations: (1) such a stage-trick is clearly dependent upon the cinematic original in order to make true sense of it all, its cleverness lying in how stage-tricks can take the place of film-tricks; (2) I had previously seen four actors and one actress perform the same quick-change magic in the Stoneham’s AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS and, thus, the novelty wasn’t new to me; and (3) as with these types of entertainments, after awhile the plot took back seat to the ensemble’s whirling virtuosity. Should THE 39 STEPS ever make it to America, it will soon become a small-theatre favorite --- guaranteed.”

Six months later, almost to the day, I type once again about THE 39 STEPS now receiving its American premiere at the Huntington en route to Broadway; my thoughts remain unchanged save that this romp is now packaged as a large-theatre favorite --- box office is box office --- and Peter McKintosh has scaled down the Huntington’s proscenium to co-exist with his original bare-walled setting though the Old Girl’s barn remains too wide for that sprinting quartet; the extra steps that they must take for their entrances and exits, with or without set-pieces, retards the ballet ever so slightly. However, once things are in place and the actors can concentrate on their cartoon-characters, things go splendidly --- and on the night I attended, the packed, packed house agreed.

Charles Edwards, the handsome, tweedy Critereon lead, repeats his brisk, breezy hero, all cocked eyebrow and stiff upper lip; Jennifer Ferrin makes a proper period heroine (that is, buttoned-down prettiness forced to take it on the lam), and Arnie Burton and Cliff Saunders’ Clowns are as tireless and inventive as the London ones though I enjoyed one of the former just a wee bit more….

When the acting rights to THE 39 STEPS become available, it will, indeed, become a small-theatre favorite --- guaranteed, again.

"The 39 Steps" (14 September-14 October)
264 Huntington Avenue, BOSTON, MA
1 (617) 266-0800

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England’s LIVE Theater Guide