Friday, October 29, 2010

The 39 Steps, Austin Playhouse, September 10 - October 30

Austin Playhouse scheduled Alfred Hitchcock's The 39 Steps for a run of almost two months, but I didn't manage to use my season tickets until the penultimate weekend of the run. Not that I expected to be disappointed; The 39 Steps won an Olivier award for best comedy in 2007 and the Broadway version, with the added tag tying it to Hitchcock, ran for two years before moving off-Broadway. And not too far off Broadway -- to New World Stages at 340 West 50th Street, where it is still playing. A road version did a limited tour in 2009-2010.

Alfred Hitchcock's The 39 Steps was nominated for six Tony awards in 2008 and walked away with two. The marketing people don't mention that those Tonys were for best lighting design and best sound design.

Never mind all that. The important thing is that it's more fun than a barrel of actors. The West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds, England, pioneered this one, applying the ingenious notion of using only four actors to put onstage the entire plot of the Hitchcock movie. Here in Austin, Benjamin Summers as Richard Hannay is the only player with an immutable role (unless you count his momentary masquerade as a milkman in order to flee from the police). Lara Toner gets to play three characters -- a German-accented femme fatale who rapidly becomes a femme morte, much to Hannay's surprise, a dreamy lassie in the wilds of Scotland, and a self-assured young blonde who winds up kidnapped and handcuffed to the fleeing Hannay.

The McGarrigles: Mrs. (Michael Stuart) and Mr. (David Stahl) (image: Christopher Loveless)The comic duo of Michael Stuart and David Stahl play everyone else in the movie -- oops, I mean, in the play. Bad guys, local notables, a dour Scots crofter, an innkeeper and his wife, the red-turbaned mysterious professor, a pair of vaudeville clowns and many, many more. In fact, the two of them are listed in the program simply as Clown #1 and Clown #2. They change identities as easily as changing hats, and sometimes they're carrying three hats at a time.

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