39 Steps Turns Hitchcock’s Adventure into Comedy

  • 01/30/2014
  • Reporters Desk

By John Farrell, Curtain Call Writer

Perhaps the first thing you need to know about The 39 Steps, is that Jeffrey Cannata, who plays the unflappable hero Richard Hannay, never has to change his costume, — not even once.

The three other actors in the play hardly stay dressed the same for more than a few minutes at a time. There are, as producer James Greussing announced, only four performers — no stage hands hidden behind the scenes and hardly any time for scene changes as the action moves from London to a train to Scotland, to the heath-covered bogs of the highlands and back to London.

Karen Jean Olds plays three different woman including, Pamela, Hannay’s love interest. The very tall Kenny Landman and the much shorter Louis Lotorto are the two clowns, who play everything else from the villain to a Scots regiment, and trench-coated killers to a husband and wife who run a broken-down hotel in Scotland. Hannay and Pamela may have the lead roles, but Lotorto and Landman do most of the work and get most of the laughs.

Hannay travels across England and Scotland, dangles the Forth bridge and is attacked by biplanes as he defeats several German spies. Cannata is perfect as Hannay, a man who lives without friends in London and wants some adventure. (He gets a lot.) He never loses his cool, his Harris Tweed suit never gets mussed and he ends up happily married.

Olds is entertaining as Pamela. She managed to die spectacularly in the first scene as the spy Annabella. And there aren’t enough words to describe the two clowns who have so many tricks up their sleeves (and in their coats and dresses, too). They use their very different heights as part of the routine that they develop, from a London musical-hall act to an evil villain who shoots Hannay. (Don’t worry: even getting shot doesn’t muss his hair.) All this mayhem is directed by Ken Parks.

The 39 Steps is the fast moving and always hilariously funny play, based on Alfred Hitchcock’s 1935 film of the same name. Even though the film is 79 years old, it is one of the best-known of his works, and the play sticks close to the story. It doesn’t hurt if you know the film well, but if you have never even heard of Sir Alfred or only know the stabbing scene from Psycho you’ll come out of the theater laughed out and with more laughs to come as you remember a favorite moment.

The 39 Steps was turned into a play by Simon Corble and Nobby Dimon and toured north England in 1995. Patrick Barlow rewrote it in 2005 and it went on to be a hit in London, in New York and is still a perennial at theaters around the United States.

The 39 Steps is playing at the Norris Theater in Rolling Hills Estates.

Tickets are $40. Performances are at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and at 2 p.m. Sunday, through Feb. 9.

Details: (310) 544-0403www.norriscenter.com
Venue: Norris Center for the Performing Arts
Location: 27570 Norris Center Drive, Rolling Hills Estates

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