Highly Recommended ***** Theatre at the Center’s production of “The 39 Steps” will keep you laughing from start to finish. If you think you remember Alfred Hitchcock’s 1935 black and white, and very moody, spy film, so you already know this plot, forget about it! This version of “The 30 Steps” is a campy, melodramatic spoof with just four actors playing all the parts. If you’re looking for laughs, this is the show for you. I give “The 39” 4 Spotlights.
“The 39 Steps” isn’t exactly a farce, but it has many farce elements including a silly plot, rapid delivery, mistaken identities, slapstick comedy and characters placed in improbable situations. There are lots of funny puns and allusions to the titles of other Hitchcock films including “Rear Window,” “Psycho,” “Vertigo” and “North by Northwest.” Watch for the Hitchcock silhouette.
It is 1935, and Richard Hannay (Matt Mueller) has just come back to England from abroad. Since he’s gotten home, he can’t seem to figure out what to do with himself. He doesn’t have a job, hates the weather, and just can’t seem to settle to anything.
One night, he goes out to the theater, taking a seat in a box. On the bill – a demonstration by Mr. Memory. Kevin McKillip introduces Mr. Memory (Norm Boucher) who remembers every fact he’s ever heard. A beautiful woman (Linda Gillum) sits next to Hannay. As Mr. Memory answers questions, the woman shoots a gun, causing pandemonium.
Using a “Boris & Natasha” kind of accent, she introduces herself as Annabella Schmidt. She persuades Hannay to take her home with him. She tells him she must get to Scotland because she’s uncovered a plot to sell military secrets to England’s enemies. She tells him to beware of the 39 Steps, an espionage organization headed by a sinister man who is missing the top of his little finger. In the morning, Hannay finds Annabella stabbed in the back.
Hannay is accused of killing her, so he jumps on the first train to Scotland to find the man. As the so-called police search the train, he kisses a woman called Pamela (Gillum) to divert them. She turns him in to the police. There’s an incredibly funny chase scene – on and off the train – and Hannay ends up handcuffed to Pamela.
With lightning fast costume changes, Boucher (Man 1) and McKillip (Man 2) play all the other parts; heroes, villains, spies, men, women and Scots. By the way, Boucher makes a pretty nice looking woman. Not to be outdone, McKillip even rides a unicycle!
Ann Davis’s set is an old-fashioned arched theater proscenium with a box on each side of the stage. There’s a screen in the center used for projections – both film and silhouette.
“The 39 Steps” runs through March 20th at Theatre at the Center, 1040 Ridge Road, Munster. Running time is 2 hours, 10 minutes including an intermission. Performances are Wednesdays and Thursdays at 2:00; Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30; Sundays at 2:30; and select Thursday and Sunday evenings and Wednesday matinees. Tickets range from $40-$44. Parking is free. FYI (219) 836-3255 or www.theatreatthecenter.com.
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