Alfred Hitchcock meets Monty Python? I don’t know about you, but when I hear a description like that in a theater’s publicity material, I am so there.
The “meeting” takes place in the recent Tony Award-winning hit The 39 Steps, based on the classic 1930s Hitchcock film but freely interpreted, to say the least, in this production, now onstage at Florida Studio Theatre’s Gompertz Theatre. The fast-moving show retains the plot line of the original—an innocent but resilient man becomes involved with spies and a cross-country chase through Scotland after a mysterious woman is murdered in his London apartment—but goes for comedy more than thrills, as the whole cast of characters is presented by just four actors with a lot of props and a helpful stage manager.
Michael Frederic and Letitia Lange in FST's The 39 Steps.
Leading the cast is Michael Frederic as Richard Hannay, and he looks the part of the dashing man on the run, frequently described aloud and glimpsed in newspaper photos as he boards a train on his quest for the truth or seeks help and refuge from colorfully caricatured Scottish villagers. (That train scene is one of the best, as Curran Connor and Sheffield Chastain, who play a multitude of roles here, swiftly transform with a hat or an accent from passengers to conductors to policemen, etc. and all the actors simulate the train’s movement.) Of course along the way Hannay meets up with the requisite cool blonde (Letitia Lange, who also plays a farmer’s wife and the murder victim), who’s both determined to turn him in and at the same time attracted to him.
Throw in the great, pivotal gimmick of Mr. Memory, which you’ll remember from the film or from author John Buchan’s original, a lot of outstanding music from Hitchcock film soundtracks, and frequent references to other of the master’s films, and you get the picture, all wrapped up in just two hours running time (including intermission). My only issue: The 39 Steps is so cleverly conceived, with so many bits of business well performed by its cast directed by Eric Hissom, that I sometimes found myself more admiring it than just enjoying it. But that may be my problem alone, and not one that will keep most audience members from having a great deal of fun.
The 39 Steps continues through Feb. 20; call 366-9000 or go to floridastudiotheatre.org for tickets.