The 39 Steps
by Anthony Chase
The 39 Steps, adapted by Patrick Barlow from the movie by Alfred Hitchcock and an original concept by Nobby Dimon and Simon Corble is a script that would seem tailor made for the Kavinoky Theatre. A spoof of Hitchcock’s 1935 film, the play uses bare-bones staging and spectacular comic invention to turn a cast of four into a wild adventure, seemingly populated by thousands.
The original production played London and was remounted in New York, where it is still playing. While the Broadway version is set to wind down in January, negotiations are underway to keep this lighter than air confection afloat at an off-Broadway venue.
A spy-thriller-come-romance, The 39 Steps follows dashing Richard Hannay, who finds himself back in England and bored to tears. His antidote for this malaise? Why a trip to the theater! And so begins a twisting plot of intrigue and treachery when a shot is fired and his life becomes entwined with a mysterious woman and a tale of espionage.
Under the direction of David Lamb, the Kavinoky has assembled a game and capable cast of zanies. Chris Corporandy is as handsome and debonair as can be in the role of Richard Hannay. The irresistible Jenn Stafford is delicious as contrasting theatrical types. Robert Rutland and David Lundy spin through countless characters with energy and enthusiasm.
On the whole, this is a striking and worthy effort.
My only reservation is that unlike the productions that put The 39 Steps on the map, this production seems like an effort. By Act II, the exertion has become rather tiring.
A glimpse of the original staging on Youtube confirms my recollection that what buoyed this toy balloon aloft was impeccable precision and unrelenting drive at every moment. There was not a look or gesture that was not staged to the millimeter and underscored by some flight of comic inspiration, often punctuated with flair with some complete surprise.
Granted, in Buffalo we do not enjoy six months of previews on top of a month of rehearsal to pull the corners tight. Still, as the evening continued, I wondered why there was no comedy original to the gifted actors at hand, and I looked to the wings, yearning for the entrance of the Kavinoky’s most legendary clown, Michael Karr.
Those reservations aside, The 39 Steps does hold pleasures and laughs aplenty, and we do find ourselves rooting for the appealing cast from beginning to end. The production continues through December 6th.
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