Review of The 39 Steps
By John Buchan
Adapted by Patrick Barlow from an original concept by Simon Corble and Nobby Dimon
Directed by Adrian Elfenbaum
For tickets / schedule :
Marin Art & Garden Center Barn Theatre
Ross Valley Players
RUN: July 14 – August 20, 2017
RATING: 5 of 5 stars
(July 21, 2017)
Pursued by police and nefarious foreign agents, Hannay races across the United Kingdom in an effort to clear his name and prevent the mysterious 39 Steps from falling into the wrong hands. Vaguely inspired by Hitchcock’s 1935 film, it turns the spy thriller into a slapstick comedy of intrigue and romance, with three actors portraying a cornucopia of characters, from a raging Scottish householder to mincing professor’s wife, swapping hats and costumes at outrageous speeds, often within the same scene.
Michael Monagle as Hannay is sarcastic and heroic, plagued by a mounting set of unfortunate circumstances that paint him as a murderous villain to the public. His tireless physicality in the role includes a re-enactment of the train chase—leaping across moving cars, climbing roofs and jumping through windows before throwing himself to the ground under fire from a trailing airplane.
Robyn Grahn portrays the three main women in the play: femme fatale secret agent Annabella, sharp witted Pamela, and flirtatious Margaret. It is not the hasty wig and costume changes that transform Grahn; rather her poise, accent and personality define the characters and their individuality. The scene when she is dragged about the moors handcuffed to Hannay, trudging through mud and clambering over stiles was especially effective through her indignation and staging by Adrian Elfenbaum that moves them through a darkened auditorium, allowing her auditory reactions to spark imagination, rather than relying on projections or sets.
The remaining roles fall upon the talented Sean Garahan and Andre Amarotico. Taking on the blustering, fiery personalities is Garahan, who’s sputtering passion is memorable and had the audience applauding with delight. In a wide range from truly disturbing child at a windswept inn to the hysterical charwoman who discovers a body stabbed in the back, Amarotico is brilliant in this adaptation designed for versatile comedic actors.
This satirical examination of the film noir genre is playful fun, while retaining the suspense of a thriller; for those unfamiliar with the story, you will find yourself on the edge of your seat wondering what will happen to Hannay and what the 39 Steps might be. Alfred Hitchcock enthusiasts will notice tributes to his work, such as Tina Johnson’s lighting design casting distinctive shadows and an iconic moment from one of his films. Ron Krempetz was inspired by the mayhem to put on a show with so many quick changes, and created a vintage backstage set design that parallels the openly revealed nature of the production, while echoing the 1930s with period furniture and an Indiana Jones vibe.
It is easy to be captivated by The 39 Steps at Ross Valley Players—whether you enjoy secret agent adventures, Alfred Hitchcock films, or theatrical comedy that the whole family will enjoy, this play is a treat of first-rate entertainment.