Reviewing Theatre For Over 40 Years
Hitchcock Spoof Hits the Spot
It was always a kooky, wonderful idea: take a dated but exciting Hitchcock thriller (based on an equally dated, equally exciting Patrick Barlow book), and turn it into a tongue-in-cheek farce. Make it an homage to the great film director. Give it a cast of four: two leads and two clowns playing absolutely everybody else in the story. And that is how “The 39 Steps” was born.
Now in a fast-paced, often laugh-out-loud funny production at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, courtesy of the McCoy Rigby series there, this “The 39 Steps” manages the careful balance between story line and silliness – a tightrope shows often have trouble walking. Much of this is due to an impressive cast, with the aid of a director strong enough to keep the reins on potential comedic excess.
Andrew Borba – the only cast member allowed one part from beginning to end – plays Richard Hannay, a British national recently returned from a long stint in Canada. Looking for entertainment at a local music hall, he encounters a mysteriously foreign woman who asks him to take her back to his flat, utters fantastical things about plots and spies, and then ends up murdered. From that point on, Hannay must follow the mystery woman’s leads not only to save the country, but to save himself from a murder charge.
Borba’s Hannay proves appropriately ruggedly handsome and innately charming, and his crisp timing plays well against the other cast members. Dana Green becomes his main foil, playing first the mysterious stranger, and then the young woman to whom he becomes literally bound in the process of his journey. Her balance of heart and sheer silliness powers the central storyline.
David McBean and Matt Walker, two consummate clowns, bring the rest of the story to life, sometimes playing several characters at once by shifting their hats. Walker studied with the best clown in the business, Bill Irwin, as well as others, and Irwin’s particular subtle physical technique powers his portrayals of everyone from a gleeful Scottish innkeeper to an underwear salesman on the train. McBean isn’t far behind, having a lovely time playing with and off of Walker.
All of this has been both nurtured and held in constraint by director Jessica Kubzansky, whose task is the difficult one of allowing the show’s humor without having it overwhelm the story. This is a tale which must be paced well, and this is another place where Kubzansky shines. She also does well as traffic cop, making sure that a set made up entirely of small bits of scenery and prop proves facile enough, and is moved quickly enough to take one through the story in seamless fashion.
“The 39 Steps” is a silly tale, but quite compelling in its way. If you want to watch fabulous subtle clowning, and people telling a good story in a highly entertaining way, this is for you. You will not come out with anything profound, but you will come out with an appreciation for the things live theater can do which no other medium can master.
What: “The 39 Steps” When: Through February 12, 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays,, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays Where: La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, 14900 La Mirada Blvd. in La Mirada How Much: $35 – $50 Info: (562) 944-9801, (714) 994-6310 or http://www.lamiradatheatre.com