The Little Theatre of Alexandria presents the melodrama parody The 39 Steps, from the novel by John Buchan and the movie classic directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Shuffled from novel to movie to stage (adapted by Patrick Barlow) in what is an impressive and eventful artistic history, this story has been molded by countless artists over the years. It is now Director C. Evans Kirk’s turn, leading an enthusiastic cast who prove themselves up to the daunting challenge of a plot that is particularly difficult and physically demanding exhausting to deliver. But LTA does!
C. Evans Kirk is also the Set Designer for this production, set in London and Scotland, 1935, the first mysterious look that the play is lovingly parodying. With construction led by David Doll, a clear homage to Hitchcock is displayed on a center-stage screen, which then changes to show a variety of settings as the plot unfolds Theatre box seats sit on either side of the stage, and four lit-up windows serve as a backdrop. The rest of the physical set contains three wooden boxes, which the actors arrange into various props. A shadow screen is also used throughout the show, with creative and amusing effects. Sound Designer Alan Wray lends effects like pouring rain and a bustling train, while Lighting Designers Ken and Patti Crowley heighten the tension with lightening strikes and strobe effects. The era is best represented through the costumes, designed by Jean Schlichting and Kit Sibley. Tweed suits, smoking jackets, and pencil mustaches are samples from the male characters, while the women don sparkly headbands, elbow-length gloves, and loftily carry around long cigarette holders.
Think tales of dark intrigue and suspense; spies, murder, and espionage. Then make it silly. This, in a nutshell, is the plot to The 39 Steps. Lonely bachelor Richard Hannay (Jeff McDermott) finds himself wrongfully accused of murder and entwined in a tight web of suspense after meeting Annabella Schmidt (Elizabeth Keith) and making the mistake of inviting her into his home. While on the run from the police, Hannay is determined to uncover the mystery of the “39 Steps,” before a dangerous secret is smuggled out of the country and into the wrong hands. Hannay meets a number of people throughout his journey, all played by the same energetic actors: Elizabeth Keith, Bob Cohen, and Erik Harrison. It is this twist– 3 actors sharing over one hundred different roles (sometimes two at once!), that makes the play so interesting and outrageous. C. Evans Kirk found a cast dynamic enough to meet this intimidating demand, with Elizabeth Keith juggling three very different women (including different accents for each) throughout the show, including the icy blonde Pamela, a feisty heroine who finds herself handcuffed to Hannay for a lengthy chunk of time.
The real gems of this show, however, and the main reason to get yourselves some tickets, is the extraordinary performances by Cohen and Harrison. These two make a dynamic pair, stealing attention whenever they are onstage. Whether a pair of old men, a magician, and announcer, or even stagehands making set changes (a hilarious moment like when Cohen mutters, “They don’t pay me enough for this,” as he drags a prop out of view), the men are captivating and incredibly charismatic while handling countless accents, dialects, and mannerisms. There are even moments when, while switching between two different hats with a quick flick of the wrists, they become (literally) two characters at once. It truly is a sight to behold. And yes, expect to see them both portray little old ladies at some point. Sorry, McDermott and Keith…you gave great performances, but the show belongs to them.
If you love great acting, and are Alfred Hitchcock fans you will love all the allusions and punny jokes in the show. If you are not Hitchcock fans – there are dozens of laughs for you too! For an evening of non-stop laughs and intrigue, LTA’s The 39 Steps delivers!
Running Time: Approximately two hours, including one 15-minute intermission.
The 39 Steps plays through November 16, 2013 at The Little Theatre of Alexandria – 600 Wolfe Street, in Alexandria, VA. For tickets, call the box office at (703) 683-0496, or purchase them online.