Theater Review: “The 39 Steps” At The Laguna Playhouse
Adapted from Alfred Hitchcock film of the same name, the play follows a boring middle-aged man named Richard Hannay (Dan Fenaughty), whose life is turned completely upside-down after meeting an exotic woman, Annabella (Larissa Klinger), who claims to be a spy. Infatuated with Annabella, Hannay decides to take her home but is faced with an unpleasant surprise when she is murdered the next morning. This involves Hannay in an intricate crime, and he becomes the most wanted murder suspect in England. The play continues to chronicle Hannay’s journey to escape the authorities, while seeking to unveil the conspiracy behind the espionage organization The 39 Steps.
The cast of just four actors, under the direction of Kevin Bigger, manages to create 154 characters in “The 39 Steps,” from farmers, hotel owners, and police officers, to inanimate objects. For instance, the women in Hannay's life (Annabella, Margaret and Pamela), are all played by Larissa Klinger, who effortlessly adapts herself to switch from one character to another. Bigger also particularly arranges two clowns (Nicolas Wilder and Toby Shaw) who seamlessly transform into different minor characters, creating both laughter and tension for the audience. Their constantly changing identities coupled with their deliberate exaggerated acting definitely reinforce the playfulness and the flow of the play.
Playwright Patrick Barlow also does an excellent job, incorporating dialogue from Hitchcock’s film and adding humorous monologues for Hannay. In addition, everything is meticulously executed in the play, from Mic Pool’s impeccable sound design to Jeremy Rolla’s creative lighting design to Peter McKintosh’s scenic and costume design. A particularly noteworthy element is McKintosh’s employment of simulated gunfire, strobe lighting and smoke machines on the stage, giving the audience visual excitement as well as an adrenaline rush. More importantly, he masterfully makes use of the limited space of the stage to mimic the original scenes designed by Hitchcock, presenting vivid, cinematic scenes to the audience.
An extraordinary combination of spy story and comedy, “The 39 Steps” is certainly a powerful play, provided that it drives the audience to empathize with Hannay and to laugh at the clowns at the same time as the play rolls on. With the easily identifiable characters, entanglement of the 154 characters, and humorous dialogue, the two-time Tony Award-winning “The 39 Steps” is successful in satiating the audiences’ needs for both laughter and thrills.
Reach Staff Reporter Vanessa here.