Review of The 39 Steps
by Gary Gonser, SFBATCC

By John Buchan
Adapted by Patrick Barlow
Directed by Adrean Elfenbaum
For tickets / schedule :
The Barn Theater in Marin Art and Garden Center
30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd, Ross, CA
Ross Valley Players

RUN: July 14 – August 20, 2017
RATING: 4.5 of 5 stars

(July 16, 2017)

Ross Valley Players - The 39 Steps

Photo by Gregg Le Blanc

Take a rather tired story with a chase scene from 100+ years ago, add a successful film adaptation by Alfred Hitchcock from 1935, modify that with a concept by Simon Corble & Nobby Dimon, then finalize that in a 2005 script by Patrick Barlow for Broadway that uses four actors to play all the scenes and roles from the Hitchcock classic film, and you have a wonderful, wild ride.

The story starts out backstage at the Palladium in London. Michael Monagle (as Hannay) is sitting in the theater, only to be interrupted by Robyn Grahn (as the spy, Annabella). She is looking for a room for the night to hide from other spies looking to kill her. Hannay takes her in and after a short discussion of a secret document leaving the country in a few days, Annabella is killed. Hannay escapes only to find himself on the run from the cops, while tracking down the spies and secrets that killed Annabella.

Simple enough, but it’s a long way from London to the highlands of Scotland on a train, especially constrained by a single set and four actors. Along the way, Grahn morphs into Pamela (a wide-eyed highland sheep farmer’s wife) and Margaret (a fair city slicker aka “love interest”). Monagle remains the stable, indefatigable Hannay, tracking his prey to clear his name and save England from its enemies.

Ross Valley Players - The 39 Steps

Photo by Gregg Le Blanc

But wait! Who plays the comics onstage at the Palladium, or the cops chasing Hannay, or the spies, or the sheep farmer and hotel proprietors, or the Scots’ election team, or the many smaller parts done by extras in Hitchcock’s film?  Enter Sean Garahan and Andrew Amarotico to the rescue.

Garahan and Amarotico are amazing actors who take quick costume and dialog changes in stride as they exit off one part of the stage only to enter as different characters through another part of the stage. Each character they play is different in dress, accent (yea, the Scots’ accent is as fun as their German and British accents), and personality. This reviewer stopped counting the distinct parts after 15. I would actually see four people on stage, and wonder where the others were.

Yes, of course there is more. Not only are all scenes and characters from the Hitchcock film “39 Steps” included in this pastiche, but little treasures from all Hitchcock’s films are tucked away in the scenes for us to find.  For example, music from “Psycho” plays for 5 seconds in an unexpected spot, while visuals from “Vertigo” expand a scene. This is a scavenger hunt for hidden trivia celebrating Hitchcock, the master “who done it” filmmaker.

The whole show is a masterpiece of comic teamwork by expert actors having the time of their lives in this wild frolic of stagecraft done with perfect timing.  It is an engrossing puzzle to the audience (“which Hitchcock film did I see that in?,” “who is that character?” etc.) that infects the audience in a matter of minutes with infectious laughter that cheers throughout the show.

Ross Valley Players - The 39 Steps

Photo by Gregg Le Blanc

This is not suspenseful mystery, but it is a cacophony of acting challenges that bring out the best of each minute of the show.  The set never changes, but basic set pieces are moved as necessary to smoothly create the necessary scenes along the way. Costumes and choreography are included with the meal as tasty “side dishes” to the main dish of plot and action.

Add the exotic spices of spot-on lighting and sound, and we have the perfect meal. This reviewer is going back for seconds.


$27 General Admission
$15 Young Adults under 25
Available through Brown Paper Tickets (+8% fee), or at the door