The 39 Steps
Adapted by Patrick Barlow from John Buchan’s novelization of Alfred Hitchcock’s film.
Directed by Jim Helsinger
Orlando Shakespeare Theatre, Orlando Fl
Hitchcock was light on humor but strong on suspense, but this show turns his plot on its head and recaptures every joke His Rotundity missed. It’s 1935 London, a city filled with ennui and pre-war intrigue. A bored Richard Hannay (Spencer Plachy) heads to the theatre where he meets a mysterious woman (Deanna Gibson) with a German accent and a butcher knife in her back. Now on the run, he flees toward Scotland attempting to stop a critical defense secret from falling into Nazi hands. Blocked at every turn by the comedy team of Brad DePlanche and Brandon Roberts he saves the free world and nearly falls in love with the revived and re-wigged Pamela (Ms Gibson, again).
It’s an exciting chase down the spiral stairs in this wild, whacky slapstick comedy. There might be a moment or two when the cast slipped and made us worry about Hannay’s safety or Pamela’s sex life, but I can’t clearly recall. Instead, the sight gags piled on top of one another – DePlanche and Roberts as the sinister trench-coated agents flawless changing costume on stage to become elderly Scottish innkeepers, a high speed chase across the top of a train played out on some foot lockers with Hannay furiously wagging his coat to mime wind, Pamela and Hannay attempting to cross a style while handcuffed together, Roberts fighting with a tassel on his Chinese fez – all screamers, all done with effortless grace and a huge bath of sweat under the costumes. Some jokes require knowledge of “Dial M For Murder” or “The Birds” but they fly by so fast only the film buffs need to take in extra gulps of air to survive.
Orlando Shakes usually goes for more thoughtful, building comedies, but here director Helsinger has put on the baggy pants, loaded up the pie cart and let fly. DePlanche and Roberts should require some sort of special license to appear in stage together, and Gibson and Hannay might actually have a romantic chemistry if we weren’t laughing so hard. Even the windows got laughs tonight – don’t miss it even if you’re in the middle of childbirth.
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