Theater preview: The 39 Steps

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From the May 3, 2012 edition

Start with the story from an Alfred Hitchcock thriller. Add one part slapstick comedy and one part frantic costume changes. Muddle, garnish with reverence for the illustrious filmmaker and serve in the Riffe Center’s Studio One Theatre.

Next week CATCO opens its production of the comedic cocktail known as “The 39 Steps,” a recent hit on Broadway. The satirical show is an homage to the suspenseful 1935 film; the plot remains the same, but the number of actors playing the story’s more than 140 characters shakes it up.

“I would call it chaos,” said Steven C. Anderson, CATCO artistic director and the play’s director, of the show. “It takes the Hitchcock story, and four actors play all of the parts.”

The small cast requires quick wardrobe changes, and an actor might portray multiple characters in a scene, sometimes holding an entire conversation with himself. If that sounds a little ridiculous, that’s the point. The humor largely stems from the difficult challenge of creating an action-filled spy tale on stage.

“It’s very Monty Python-esque,” Anderson explained.

In the show, a man stumbles into an espionage conspiracy by accident and then has to run for his life. Naturally he falls for a woman to whom he is handcuffed (Hitchcock had a sense of humor, too). And along the way, there are numerous allusions to Hitchcock’s other films that’ll leave his devoted fans snorting with glee.

Red Generation Photography photo