Alfred Hitchcock's "The 39 Steps," Adapted by Patrick Barlow
by Margaret Croyden

Alfred Hitchcocks's "The 39 Steps," Adapted by Patrick Barlow
Directed by Maria Aitken

Presented by The Roundabout Theater Company
at The American Airlines Theater

Broadway and 42nd Street
Opened January 15, 2008
Reviewed by Margaret Croyden January 17, 2008

Be prepared to be amused by the delightful production of "The 39 Steps." If you are old enough to remember Alfred Hitchcock's fabulous script, its intricate design, its suspense, and amusing chase between the hero and the spy masters, then you will certainly appreciate this spoof of Hitchcock. Adapted from a book by John Buchan, and directed by the brilliant and innovative Maria Aitken, the play runs a mere two hours and flies by as though twenty minutes. Imagine three man and a single woman playing all the roles that encompasses the entire movie from the beginning to the end. And this they do so brilliantly that it is impossible to tell that the actors are playing multiple characters. The program lists the cast as Man #1 (Cliff Saunders); Man #2 (Arnie Burton); Richard Hannay (Charles Edwards); Anabella Schmidt/Pamela/ Margaret (Jennifer Ferrin).

But the leading character, Richard Hannay, played by the brilliant Charles Edwards is played by the same actor. He is the sophisticated handsome sleuth who finds a dead woman in his apartment. Which starts the action rolling. Hannay is accused of her murder, tries to escape the police, and revolves to find the real killer, a plot used repeatedly in various crime stories: the wrongly accused hero on the killer's trail. This finds our hero traveling near and far, a car chase, a train chase, a jump out a window, and handcuffed to a woman by accident. She gives him a hard time, only to fall in love with him later and together solve the mystery of the 39 steps.

How does this production, so cleverly directed by Maria Aitken, get this story in shape. She had only four actors who seem as if they are improvising. Within a minute--they change from one character to another. Sometimes they run across the stage, existing from the right only to re-enter left, almost instantly. These actors have the agility of clowns as they depict changes of scenery with a variety of body movements. They walk, glide, run, exit, enter. Few props are used: a wooden frame becomes a window, certain body movements by the cast indicate a moving train, or a mountainous climb --all this is accomplished by the actors' perfect timing.

The production is an amazing display of innovative acting and staging associated with the art of farce. The farcical elements of the Hitchcock story are all there-- the murder, the handsome sleuth, the love interest and the discovery of the real killer. All credit must go to the director who melded the elements into a delightful comedy. Nothing is wasted; nothing on stage is erroneous.
Charles Edwards captures the role of Richard Hannay perfectly. If you are old enough to remember the wonderful Robert Donat and Madeline Carrol in the original film, you will appreciate the talent of Charles Edwards, who may not be the great Robert Donat, but with tongue in cheek he carries off the role of the sophisticated handsome Englishman who is clever, sexy and appealing.
If you are sick and tired of election news with the candidate's unbearable repetition, and the nasty, biased media on TV, you will be refreshed by this production and its ingenious staging. To those who created "39 Steps," to the director and actors, I say hurray for farce, hooray for laughter. "The 39 Steps" has it all. See it by all means.

Margaret Croyden's most recent book is "Conversations with Peter Brook, 1970-2000" (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

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