A Comedy in Long-Shot

By on 27 January, 2017 in Art, Fun, Sarah Thornton with 0 Comments

39stepslogo“As someone said, “the finest comedy comes from the greatest truth”. Or was it “the best comedy is deadly serious”? Or was it “play it for real and not the gag” (that was Buster Keaton). Anyway, whoever said what when, I’d respectfully ask you to remember the story too. It’s there behind the mayhem.” – Patrick Barlow

Alfred Hitchcock is remembered as a master of suspense and one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. If you look a little closer, you find that he was also an incredible storyteller, writer, satirist, collaborator, creative thinker, problem solver, not to mention a really funny guy. The 39 Steps, which began as a novel written by John Buchan, gained added fame when Hitchcock adapted it into a film in 1935. And many decades later, Patrick Barlow gave it new life in his award-winning stage adaptation.

The cast of four actors plays somewhere in the realm of a hundred characters. There are over thirty scenes, some merely seconds long, that range in location from a London flat to a runaway train to a Music Hall to an airplane flying high above the Scottish moors. Half of the fun for the audience is in seeing how all of these things are brought to life on a practically bare stage (and it’s a lot of fun, and quite a workout, for the cast as well!).

The hilarious comedy that ensues will have you in stitches as you watch these four actors try to recreate a triumph of filmmaking in an entirely different medium, the stage. In this era of movies being turned into Broadway shows (I’d list them, but the list is quite lengthy at this point) and Broadway musicals being turned into movies and TV specials (I’d list them, but the list is quite lengthy at this point), the nuances of these incredibly different art forms tend to get lost in the shuffle. Patrick Barlow seems to take that idea and run with it as his play pokes endless fun at trying to recreate the Hitchcock film for the stage. A ridiculous comedy of errors ensues.

There is something truly magical about the kind of story-telling put to work in this play. It takes endless imagination, lots of timing and hard work, and an incredibly high level of commitment to the new reality being created right before your eyes. It asks of its actors more than seems humanly possible at times, but from the first step our reluctant hero, Richard Hannay, takes out of his apartment, the story flies at a breakneck pace that pulls you in immediately.

Yet, The 39 Steps is more than just acting acrobatics and chaotic comedy. At its heart, there is quite a story being told! We begin with a man who is bored with his mediocre life, discontented, lonely. His life seems to him to be devoid of meaning. He meets a mysterious woman who hurls him into a spy story of epic proportions. While his life does not remain boring for long, he is faced with some big choices. He is alerted to the thin veil of society that disguises all manner of evil lurking just under the surface. He must fight for what is truly important in life: “loyalty, selflessness, sacrifice, love.” But perhaps the extreme circumstances in which he suddenly finds himself were the only way to teach him of what he truly values most.

Get your tickets for The 39 Steps at the Cloverdale Playhouse, running February 9-19. Visit www.cloverdaleplayhouse.org or call the box office at (334) 262-1530 for more information.

Sarah Walker Thornton is the Artistic Director of the Cloverdale Playhouse, who walks like a New Yorker and waves like an Alabama girl. She is a product of a Montgomery arts education, with several years of life in NYC thrown in for extra flavor.

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