Friday, April 7, 2017

Coronado’s “The 39 Steps” a one hundred mile a minute roller coaster ride.

There are just two of Alfred Hitchcock’s full- length movies that I refuse to watch again, “Psycho” and “The Birds”. Sue me. But as far as “The 39 Steps” is concerned, I’m game if need be.

For Alfred Hitchcock buffs, the Tony Award winning “The 39 Steps” is currently playing at The Coronado Playhouse through April 23rd and is a virtual smorgasbord with all the toppings and enough goodies to satisfy every taste.

If you’ve never heard of the great moviemaker/director Hitchcock or his “39 Steps” think “Rear Window”, “The Birds”, “North By Northwest”, “Dial M For Murder”,  “Vertigo” and  “Psycho” for starters, it’s no biggie. Then there was always his television show Alfred Hitchcock Presents that lasted about ten years. I think I’m dating myself, but do check it out.

Hitchcock’s wry sense of humor both in the movies and on TV is evident from the outset, as each of his TV shows opened with music from Gounod’s Funeral March of a Marionette as the body of the rotund Hitchcock walked into a silhouetted caricature of the man himself.

He managed a cameo appearance in every one of his movies as he did in this production. Now, if you still have no recollection of any of the above mentioned forget I said anything and just enjoy the fine and fun-filled production in Coronado directed by Desha Crownover.

John Buchan’s 1915 book “The 39 Steps” was an original concept by Simon Corble and Nobby Dimon. The film version was adapted for the stage by Patrick Barlow. And if that all that sounds like “Who Killed John”? You ain’t heard nothing yet! It is also based on the Hitchcock 1935 spy thriller of the same name.

“The 39 Steps” made a West Coast Premiere in San Diego in 2009 at the La Jolla Playhouse and a few years later Lamb’s Players Theatre ran it. Wanna know why this comedy thriller is so popular? It’s clever, fast, deliciously funny and the never stop action is almost breathtaking.

Four actors play a total of 40 characters. No small fete, this. They run, chase after, change costumes to fit the characters (Marcee Drysdale), end up in a variety of the most unlikely locations (Jacob Sampson), change accents sooner than the mind can comprehend (and/ or understand) and move at a frenetically faster than at humanly possible rate of speed so much so, that by plays end the audience is exhausted and chuckling at the same time.

Russell Clements and Jacob Sampson
Here’s the caper. A lonely man, Richard Hannay (Michael Lundy) goes to theatre (Palladium to be exact) because he’s bored. He is watching a performance of “Mr. Memory” played by Jacob Sampson (who also plays several other characters, male and female, with assorted accents). He is The Man with a photographic memory. The Master of Ceremonies or Mr. X who also a potpourri of parts, introduces him. (Russell Clements)

In the middle of his memory act a fight breaks out and a mysterious woman from the audience fires shots. The lonely man soothes an agitated and hysterical woman and takes the gun from her. The mysterious woman (Erica Marie Weisz was recently seen in “My Fair Lady” at Moonlight) convinces the man to take her back to his apartment.

Back at his flat she gives him some cockamamie story that she is a government spy and is being chased by foreign assassins who have stolen government secrets. She is a being followed by the bad guys, one of whom has a joint missing from one of his pinky fingers. (Clue or not?) She also reveals the conspirators are in a German espionage organization called (you guessed it) “The 39 Steps”.

Michael Lundy and Eroca Marie Weisz
The next morning girl winds up stabbed with his bread knife in her back. He finds her strewn across his lap when he wakes up in his chair. In her hand is a map of Scotland Yard. (Another clue?)  Concerned about being falsely accused of murder he takes it on the lamb with the map and the chase begins.

On the run, over the meadows and through the woods cutting across cold misty London countryside’s, farms, county estates, dangerous foggy sea cliffs, train chases from England to Scotland, and spooky taverns, encountering various and sundry red herrings and a bevy of suspicious looking characters who may or may not be guilty of the crime and or the subterfuge, Hannay is determined to get tot the bottom of The 39 Steps conspiracy.

On the run
So far this tongue in cheek Hitchcock-like thriller is all too familiar. And when Richard is being chased by the police on the train and meets a beautiful young woman and kisses her to hide from the police, we have to think “North by Northwest”.

Director Desha Crownover and her extremely versatile cast of four have used every trick of the trade imaginable to them from puppets, to silhouettes and back lighting, slight of hand, hats and coat tricks, split second costume changes, and a shadow chase scene across the Scottish countryside (Again think North by Northwest). It is packed with all the sound effects (Michael Cook) mustered to keep the show propped up and moving forward toward solving the mystery of “The 39 Steps.”

The versatile Lundy was recently seen in ION’s “The Normal Heart”. To say that he worked his buns off would be a misstatement. He stays in character throughout as opposed to the others who play the other, da dum, thirty-nine. I even found him next to me crawling on the floor when he asked if it was a good show. (He was making a get a way)

Weisz looks the perfect decoy/spy, murder target and farmers wife.
Clements and Sampson are so interchangeable as the madcap everyone else that after a while it was hard to tell who was what.
Needless to say, the whole caper worked for me, as I’m sure it will for you.

P.S. Don’t even bother trying to solve this one, just enjoy. 

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through April 23rd
Organization: Coronado Playhouse
Phone: 619.435.4856
Production Type: Comedy
Where: 1835 Strand Way, Coronado
Ticket Prices: $20.00-$27.00
Venue: Coronado Community Playhouse

Photo: Ken Jacques

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