Rating: 5 Stars
The funniest play you are likely to see this spring traces its unlikely origins to the Alfred Hitchcock movie, “The 39 Steps.” This Hilberry Theatre production – the season finale – should be mandatory viewing for anyone wishing to understand either the mechanics of comedy or the essentials of theatrical storytelling.
Hitchcock based his thriller on a novel by John Buchan and reset it in pre-WWII Britain to leverage the imminent Nazi threat as a dramatic device. Playwright Patrick Barlow discovered comic alchemy by rendering the Hitchcock film, scene by scene, as a manic theatrical parody staring four hardworking actors. The hero is Richard Hannay, featuring Michael Manocchhio as the blasé Brit with a flair heroism and hilarious side patter with the audience. The Woman, played by Bevin Bell-Hall, is a brilliant send up of Hollywood’s best female stereotypes – the seductress, the innocent ingénue, and the good-hearted farm girl – in this case, one with a decidedly Scottish accent. All of the other roles are played by the two “Clowns” – Brandy Joe Plambeck and Michael Phillip Thomas – who flip characters, costumes and accents faster than IHOP pancakes, and with even similar variety. As the play reaches its climax and the chase sequences demand a larger cast of characters, Plambeck and Thomas are required to portray multiple roles within a single scene; the frantic costume changes and clever devices that make this possible give this farce its breathless charm.
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