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Theatre Review: The 39 Steps

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(Sacramento, CA)
Tuesday, February 8, 2011

In 1935, a young filmmaker named Alfred Hitchcock released a stylish thriller called "The 39 Steps."  It's the story of a gent who unexpectedly gets plunged into a cloak-and-dagger case involving spies, secrets and derring-do.

Sacramento's B Street Theatre is presenting a theatrical reworking of Hitchcock's silver-screen classic, transforming the witty old thriller into a fast-moving, four-actor farce. The play opens with a dapper fellow who's depressed after reading headlines about elections and wars and rumors of wars. And then, the solution comes to him in a flash.

"Find something to do, you bloody fool. Something mindless. Something trivial. Something utterly pointless. I know! The theatre! (Laughter)  A West End show, that should do the trick."

But while our gent is watching the show, a gunshot rings out, and a woman in distress begs him to hide her. Once inside his flat, she warns him she's being followed by shadowy assassins, who are just outside.

 "Zey are in ze street zis very moment. Beneath your English lamp post. Take a look, why don't you? But be very careful."

(Ominous horn theme, sound of Venetian blind rising).

"Now do you believe me?"

This compact remake is played entirely for laughs. It's brimming with thick accents, fake mustaches, affected mannerisms and the like. The actors lay on the shtick so thick the parody goes a little too far over the top.

One of the elusive secrets of Hitchcock's success was his sly sense of restraint. But the humor in this stage version is often broad and brassy. The concept is cute, the script clever, and the actors energetic, as our dapper man eludes capture again and again. But this lighthearted show might have been better if everyone involved had toned things down just a bit.

The B Street Theatre's production of "The 39 Steps" was originally scheduled to play through February 20, but it has been extended and will re-open in the B Street's 110-seat space on March 4th.

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