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Saturday, 26 June 2010 15:08

Off-Broadway Review: THE 39 STEPS

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Jamie Jackson and John Behlmann in THE 39 STEPS
Jamie Jackson and John Behlmann (r) in
The 39 Steps

Photo: Carol Rosegg
When I saw The 39 Steps two years ago on Broadway, the cast was completely different and it was at the Cort Theatre.  While the Cort does not have a large stage, the size of the stage at its current off-Broadway home, New World Stages is even smaller.  This presents a problem for a play that relies heavily on broad physical comedy.  The cast of the original production reached a level of synchronicity and exactitude that unfortunately this cast doesn't quite achieve.  You get the joke but you don't feel the sense of amazement you felt when watching the Broadway cast. 

This cast is not untalented.  John Behlmann is suave as Richard Hannay.  Kate Maccluggage is dexterous with all three of her varied roles.  But the guys who do a lot of the heavy lifting in this production are Jamie Jackson and Cameron Folmar as Man #1 and Man #2.  These talented men play multiple characters both male and female, young and old.  They range from a Scottish inn keeper and his wife to a train conductor and cop. 

The Cast of THE 39 STEPS
John Behlmann, Cameron Folmar, Jamie Jackson and Kate MacCluggage (l-r) in
The 39 Steps

Photo: Carol Rosegg

The 39 Steps is based on the 1935 Hitchock thriller which was loosely based on the novel by John Buchan.  This current adaptation is by Patrick Barlow.  It is about a poor sop, Richard Hannay who yearns for an escape from the realities of war and life in general.  To accomplish this he decides to go to the theatre.  Whilst watching a performance of "Mr. Memory," a man with an uncanny knack for recalling vast amounts of information he encounters a female spy.  He is ultimately framed for her murder and suddenly finds himself on the lam and intertwined in an international scheme to steal British war secrets, the designs for an aircraft.

Maria Atkin has crafted this production with a brisk tempo and a creative and economical use of multipurpose props.  A podium in one scene doubles as a steering wheel column for a get-away car in the next.  The sound design by Mic Pool and Lighting by Kevin Adams are exceptional and earned both men a Tony Award for the Broadway Production.  (The Broadway production had two Tony wins and six nominations.)  Barlow's adaptation sticks fairly closely to the plot of the 1935 movie except for the eye-winking titles of other Hitchcock films ("Rear Window," "Vertigo") worked in to mild amusement (more like groaning) and the fact that four actors play every character in the movie. 

If the audience the afternoon I saw it is any indication, you'll have a good time at The 39 Steps.  If you didn't see the Broadway production you will still marvel at the fleetness and fluidity of this fun and silly adaptation.

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Last modified on Saturday, 26 June 2010 17:40