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Theatre Talk: 'The 39 Steps'

If you wish to be in on the joke, watch Alfred Hitchcock's 1926 "The 39 Steps" first. Then see the new play at New Village Arts in Carlsbad.

If you don't watch it, you may fall into the same chasm I did wondering what the blazes was A.J. Knox up to? And why? All was revealed after I watched Hitchcock's film noir on YouTube this morning. That's when I got it! The play is absolutely brilliant.

It went from, "oh, golly, will I be banned from another playhouse for telling the truth?" to A.J. should send me flowers. (My favorite being daisies in case he asks).

Without knowing the show, it appears to be a scatter-brained-English farce performed by four remarkable players. But. It was so tedious. I wanted to run for the door but couldn't for two reasons. One, we'd leave a big gap in the room and second, Handel's Ice Cream sponsors the after-show cast party.

I fretted all the way home and over my first cup of coffee this morning trying to find a way to not offend anyone. While trying to glean more details about Hitchcock's handling of the film, I stumbled upon it on YouTube and it was free to watch.

Originally a novel by John Buchan, it was later adapted into a screenplay for Hitchcock in 1926. After the film it was adapted to a play. Which explains why Hitchcock introduced the show on the Ray Charles Stage at New Village Arts last Saturday night April 13.

"The 39 Steps" is a mystery in two acts performed by four entertaining actors, all possessing great skill.

Yet this was my impression. Four really good actors were working their tails off. Unfortunately, without knowing the show, it felt dated, overdone, and was exhausting to watch. Yet, the house was laughing and guffawing, even though packed by cast-friendly family and friends, they were cheering their friends onward on opening night.

I was distraught and felt trapped waiting to get to the ice cream all the while still wondering what was A.J. Knox thinking when he directed this show?

Still the actors were keeping pace and doing a bang-up job even though occasionally their dialects slipped because the plot bounces from London to Edinburgh.

At the time, the humor seemed forced and as far as English farces go this one was wasted on an American audience. For me, it was starting to smell.

As it turns out, the film was an early work by Hitchcock. Once I watched the film, the play made sense. Normally, I would not encourage anyone to see a show that way, except in this case. The play follows the film plotline verbatim. So now instead of finding this show a total waste of a perfectly good Saturday night, I get it! And you will too! It is hilarious.

The plot: It's 1930. Richard Hannay (Dallas McClaughlin) is a handsome English gent who stops by the music hall before returning to his bachelor flat. Naturally, he meets a beautiful, troubled woman, who for reasons she cannot explain, asks to come home with him. He's feeling pretty lucky until she is stabbed and he's accused of her murder.

Entangled in a plot to steal state secrets, Richard encounters dubious characters as he solves the mystery. All of the other dubious characters are played by the comedy timings of Reden Magtira and Kenny Bordieri. Like all great comedy teams do, they entertain. Bravo! What an opening night.

Yet the stellar moment belongs to Pamela (Erica Marie Weisz). She not only pulls laser focus but also sucks the air from the room when she holds the audience in rapt attention as she removes her damp stockings while cuffed to the hapless Hannay. (That, in itself, was his best bit of acting.)

"The 39 Steps" will play until May 12 at New Village Arts in Carlsbad. It's a hit. Tickets are on sale at http://www.newvillagearts.org or 760-433-3245. Rated 9 out of 10. It's a winner!

Elizabeth can be reached at [email protected]

 

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