Produced by: San Jose Stage Company
Featuring: Cassidy Brown as Richard Hannay, Allison F. Rich, Keith Pinto and Edward Hightower
Directed by: Kenneth Kellher
When: November 25 through December 20, 2015
Where: San Jose Stage Company, 490 South First Street, San Jose
Tickets: $30-$65. Call 1-408-283-7142 or visit www.thestage.org
It’s hard enough to write a screenplay for a movie with 100 roles in it. But think about condensing that movie, which also traverses the length and breadth of Great Britain, into a stage play with only four actors. It’s enough to make you laugh out loud, which is exactly what "The 39 Steps" does.
Adapted by Patrick Barlowe from Alfred Hitchcock’s movie of the same name, which was based loosely on John Buchan’s 1915 book, "The 39 Steps" is a riotous romp through the cities of London and Edinburgh via train over the Forth Rail Bridge, and over the Scottish moors.
Cassidy Brown plays Richard Hannay, a Canadian émigré who is a little bored with life but suddenly finds himself thrust into the plot of a fast-moving spy thriller when he decides to go to the theater to see Mr. Memory, a stage act at the London Palladium. There he meets Annabelle Schmidt, played by the excellent Allison F. Rich with a heavy German accent ("Schmid-t!"). The game is soon afoot, though Schmidt cautions Hannay not to get "inwolved.
We are soon treated to a shooting and a stabbing, after which the action moves to the train to Edinburgh, where Hannay has to find a certain professor with half a finger missing. Much is left to the imagination as the train carriage consists of a few shipping trunks used as seats, scenes projected on a screen behind, and the actors rocking back and forth in unison. The scenes on the train are hilarious, as Keith Pinto and Edward Hightower quick-change multiple times between the roles of businessmen in bowler hats and policemen in their constable’s helmets.
A simple yet effective device consisting of one ladder perched between two more serves as the railtrack over the Forth Bridge as Hannay is pursued by the constables. Now in Scotland, we are treated to some excellent Edinburgh brogue homework on accents was obviously taken very seriously (well done, Dialect Coach Emily Jordan). But it is the scenes in the McGarrigle Hotel which really take the biscuit.
Though Brown as Hannay only has one role throughout, Rich, Hightower and Pinto change multiple times, sometimes even within the same scene. And the hotel owner’s wife, Mrs. McGarrigle, is played with true comedic excess. Accents, costumes and roles we’re never quite sure who is playing whom, but it doesn’t really matter as we are happily dragged along with the fast-moving script.
Hitchcock always played a little cameo role in his movies, and as a nod to this there are a number of references to Hitchcock movies, which adds to the fun. The props of a few trunks on the floor, an armchair and a couple of doors and windows on wheels, all moved around gracefully and sometimes in full view of the audience are really all that’s needed by scenic designer Rick Ortenblad to spark our imagination to fill in the rest of the scene.
Email Tony Lacy-Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org