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39 Steps a spoof at its highest level
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39 Steps a spoof at its highest level

by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

The 39 Steps
Seattle Repertory
Theatre
Through October 24


You don't need to know Alfred Hitchcock movies to be in on the fun of The 39 Steps, now at Seattle Repertory Theatre, but it helps with at least a few jokes. This is a production that started at La Jolla Playhouse and is destined to leave Seattle for a nationwide tour. Patrick Barlow adapted the story from the 1935 Hitchcock film, as opposed to the book by John Buchan.

The four actors in the cast are more than able to handle the slapstick and farce of this fun production. Ted Deasy plays the main character, Richard Hannay, an upper crust Brit who finds himself accused of murder and flees in search of the true murderer so he can be exonerated. Claire Brownell plays two characters: the pseudo-Russian spy woman who is murdered and an ingénue on a train who is assaulted by Hannay - he kisses her and she calls the police on him.

The two actors who do the most work and are the most precise about their roles (and they have to be, to pull them off) are Eric Hissom and Scott Parkinson. They play police, train conductors, travelers, innkeepers, dastardly criminals and scene manipulators - sometimes more than two people at the same time! There is one sequence when they play three people each, all with changes of hats, which is a masterful display of acting craftsmanship. To pull this off and get the most laughs out of it, it must be done at top speed, which these skillful men do.

A secret to be uncovered is who or what the 39 steps are. Once revealed, that secret could foil the dastardly plans of a rotten villain (yeah, they're all rotten villains, right?), so it's imperative that Hannay get the secret before the plan is fully realized and all England is destroyed. But that is the least important issue in the play, ultimately, and once revealed it means little or nothing, except maybe succeeding in foiling the dastardly plot - which, I guess, is something.

The style of the play is completely tongue-in-cheek and spoofs theater conventions. There is little set: window frames hanging in the air with no glass, doors in doorframes on wheels, etc. This allows for silliness such as climbing through a window that one holds oneself, and one door that becomes another and another and another just by turning it around a few times and pretending it leads different places. The accents are varied, showing off the great ear of the actors.

Some of the scenery is carried on, visibly, by the actors. One of the early jokes is when Hannay looks out a window to a streetlight below, under which are supposed to be two plainclothes police, and actors Hissom and Parkinson carry on a streetlight and stand under it. When Hannay turns from the window, they carry the streetlight off stage, only to return again when Hannay again looks out the window. This hopefully gives you the flavor of the evening.

There are jokes about Hitchcock movies, most of which almost any audience member should be able to get. It's not supposed to add up to very much, but it's a great example of classic comedy, in the style of the Marx Brothers or Danny Kaye - the high art of silliness. For more information, go to www.seattlerep.org or call 206-443-2222.

Comments on reviews go to sgncritic@gmail.com.

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