Windwood Theatrical’s national touring company production of “The 39 Steps,” a comedy spoof of the Alfred Hitchcock 1935 spy film, bounds onto the Chalberg Theatre stage for two performances at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Presented as part of the Central Lakes College (CLC) Cultural Arts Series, the play is the winner of the Olivier Award as best comedy in 2007, was nominated for six Tony Awards (winning two) and received the 2008 Drama Desk Award.
It has been produced worldwide, including a 2011 Guthrie production and is currently a mainstay in London’s West End.
“I saw the London production in March,” said CLC Cultural Arts Series producer Patrick Spradlin. “I was amazed at the theatricality of it, but mainly at how funny it is. When the opportunity came to present it in Brainerd, I jumped at the chance.”
The story is the prototype for several of Hitchcock’s thrillers about innocent men embroiled in foul play and on the run. Think “North by Northwest” or “The Man Who Knew Too Much.” Richard Hannay, a square-jawed dashing bachelor, visits a London theatre where a fight breaks out and shots are fired. He meets the glamorous, mysterious Annabella Schmidt, frightened and in desperate need of safe haven. Convinced by her charms, Hannay takes her back to his flat, where she ends up getting murdered, and Richard ends up on the run, dodging policemen, pilots and a sinister professor. His journey takes him across England with wild chases in automobiles, atop a moving train, all the while encountering danger at every turn.
The ingenuity of “The 39 Steps” lies in its casting and its staging. Four actors play all the characters from the film, numbering over 100. Two of the four cast members play the vast majority of the characters with lightning-quick costume changes and astonishing actor versatility. The settings for the various locations are suggested in minimalistic fashion, often leaving the audience’s imagination to fill in final details.
In addition, the play is full of allusions and puns that reference other Hitchcock films. Through various clever visual and musical turns, homage is paid to such movies as “Rear Window,” “The Birds,” “Strangers on Train” and “Psycho.” While the play shares the plot and characters of the original film “The 39 Steps,” it is a comic treatment of the story in the style of Monty Python. The Windwood traveling production just completed its initial run at the Laguna (CA) Playhouse, where it was praised for “satiating the audiences needs for both laughter and thrills,” by the USC online digital review. The Orange County Register said, “‘The 39 Steps’ is the perfect play for those who are a little bored with the spectacle they see at the movies and the latest blockbuster musical. Beneath all the tomfoolery, it’s a reminder that theater is at its best when the wonder is created by the performers alone.”
Reserved seating tickets are $27 and $22, and are available by calling the CLC Theatre Box Office at 218-855-8199, or can be purchased online at clctickets.com.