Hitchcock’s Storied Sense of Humor Takes to the Ahmanson Theatre

The-39-Steps-Photo-8-1024x819We start off with an English gentleman.  He’s on stage, with his requisite pipe, telling us of the dull and boring days in a rented flat in central London that drove him to seek entertainment in a place as unlikely as the theatre.  He treks off to see red curtains pulled back revealing a perfectly comic duo in only their first role of the evening: as host and the night’s main act, Mr. Memory.  This is the beginning of “Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps”, on now at the Ahmanson Theatre.

This show is not for the theatre purist easily offended by a lack of the ever-elusive “fourth wall.”  This is, instead, one of the funniest, most inventive, self-reflective plays I’ve seen in a long while.  With a cast of only four, the players cover many a persona often by simply changing their hat while still on stage.  The special effects were nowhere to be seen, either, with characters holding out and shaking their own coats to simulate the wind.  Various accents abounded as each actor moved between his or her alternate personalities – Clair Brownwell’s initial character, Annabella Schmidt, had a very German accent (pronouncing “involved” in all sorts of incomprehensible ways) before she switched to become the blonde Scottish woman, Pamela, out to get our leading man, Ted Deasy.

Deasy played only one man – the clever, but wanted Richard Hannay – and was a delight from the moment he stepped on stage.  He mastered a dry, elongated British accent and paired it with a quick-paced rapport, making the play seem almost like His Girl Friday, as directed by Mr. Hitchcock.  With references to Hitchcock’s films throughout, from a scene with Deasy running away from planes in silhouette a la North by Northwest to a sneaky puppet that made Mr. Hitchcock’s iconic cameo for him, “The 39 Steps” is a comical tour de force.

What made the show spectacular was the work of Eric Hissom and Scott Parkinson, cast as Man #1 and Man #2, respectively.  They went from train ticket takers to cops on the hunt for a murderer to inn-keepers to German spies (and their wives) to on-stage “special effects” coordinators taunting Deasy and Brownell to the end.  The Men (numbers 1 and 2) interacted with each other seamlessly, moving in perfect sync when necessary and telling one another when they’d forgotten to change their hat again and they were acting as the wrong character.

Perhaps the scene that prepared the audience best for what we were about to experience came toward the start when Annabella Schmidt, who had talked her way into staying at Mr. Hannay’s flat for the night, explained her predicament.  She told Hannay that she was being followed by detectives and that they would be there now beneath a street lamp near his apartment.  As Hannay went to pull back the blind to see for himself, Man #1 and Man #2 rushed on stage holding a prop street lamp.  They set it up and stood beneath it, their trench coat collars pulled up and black hats pulled down.  Quick-witted with a hefty side of film noir, vintage international intrigue, and absolutely no magical seamlessness between scenes.  “Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps” tells you what its going to do as it does it, but in the funniest way possible – just make sure you brush up on your Hitchcock.

“Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps” runs now through May 16 at the Ahmanson Theatre downtown at the Music Center.  Please click here or call (213) 972-4400 for more information.

Comments are closed Trackback

Comments are closed.