The 39 Steps

New Village Arts Theatre, San Diego

Written by:
Lynne Friedmann
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Your next satisfying belly laugh awaits at New Village Arts Theatre courtesy of a pitch-perfect production of the comedy “The 39 Steps.”

This parody of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1935 drama of the same name is the story of Richard Hannay, a Canadian on holiday, who finds himself in an extraordinary and dangerous situation as a mysterious woman he meets at a London Music Hall reveals she is a spy and implores him to protect her. This conversation transpires shortly before a knife finds its way into her back. Hannay, innocent of both the crime and any knowledge of her espionage secrets, is nonetheless now the target of an all-out manhunt by the police who want to hang him for murder and a foreign spy den that wants to rub him out because the bad guys think he knows all about their audacious plan to smuggle a top-secret defense design out of the country.

In roller-coaster fashion, our hapless hero attempts to clear his name while dodging hitmen, policemen, a suspicious farmer, by-the-books train conductors, a corrupt village magistrate and a man with a telltale missing finger. He also seeks to enlist (with varying degrees of success) help from a milkman, an unfulfilled housewife, organizers of a political rally, innkeepers, a good-looking blonde and a music hall performer with a prodigious memory.

Seamlessly portraying this expansive list of characters is a cast of four fearless actors all with exquisite comedic timing:

Dallas McLaughlin as Richard Hannay does the heavy lifting in the story as the debonair tweed-clad leading man. He’s in virtually every scene displaying incredible survival skills, while remaining an ever-so-polite Canadian desperate to save his skin.

Erica Marie Weisz brings richly faceted portrayals to multiple roles including Annabella, the ill-fated femme fatale spy; Margaret, a young wife with stars in her eyes and regrets about her marriage to a much older man; and Pamela, Hannay’s reluctant love interest who initially doesn’t buy his “I didn’t kill anyone” claim, tries at every opportunity to turn him into the authorities and only later views him in a new amorous light.

Reden Magtira and Kenny Bordieri combine the athleticism of Cirque du Soleil and the slapstick of the Marx Brothers as they round out the story by portraying just about everyone under the sun.

Scenic coordinator Frank Seed keeps pace with the endless plot twists by taking the story from London to the Scottish countryside and back again by transforming the stage into a music hall, London townhouse, rolling railroad cabin on the Flying Scotsman, stone bridges and soggy moors that require traversing, a bedroom with a roaring fire in a country inn and a stately country manor house dripping with intrigue. Astonishing right-before-your-eyes character changes are courtesy of costume designer Grace Wong. The sound of train wheels and air brakes, bagpipes and a haunting refrain that Hannay can’t get out of his head are the work of sound designer Dr. AJ Knox. Lighting designer by Russell Chow.

Achieving the mood of the 1930s is props designer McKenna Foote. Worthy of mention is a set of handcuffs that link fugitives Hannay and Pamela so tightly together that her need to take off wet silk stockings required an intimacy coordinator (Kate Rose Reynolds) to choreograph the scene.

The cast, under the guidance of dialect coach Gerilyn Brault, delivers convincing cockney, British upper crust, Scottish and German accents. The latter with rolling R’s, popping P’s and harsh H’s that could strip wallpaper from a room.

How funny is this show? In one scene even cast members found it hard to keep it together. It only made them more endearing to the audience.

By Lynne Friedmann

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