39 Steps

Robert O. Berdahl and Sarah Agnew star in the Arizona Theatre Company’s “Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps,” which will be playing downtown through Feb. 4. The production opened on Jan. 20.

courtesy of Tim Fuller

Zany, madcap comedy is not usually the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Alfred Hitchcock, but the Arizona Theatre Company’s current production, “39 Steps,” may just change that.

If you are looking for a good laugh, or for that matter several, you might consider a trip downtown for the show that runs through Feb. 4. Opening night was on Jan. 20.

With four actors playing 150 different characters, “39 Steps” keeps the laughs coming with crazy props, wacky outfits, herds of sheep in Scotland and a low-budget production worth the cost of admission.

Robert O. Berdahl, who played the handsome hero Richard Hannay, would have stolen the show if it weren’t for his three co-stars, Sarah Agnew, Jim Lichtscheidl and Luverne Seifert.

Every actor, with exception of Berdahl, has multiple roles, but the two clowns, Lichtscheidl and Seifert, take this to a new level, including one rapid-fire scene where each plays three characters, switching roles more times than I could count in less than 30 seconds.

The clowns also amazed and entertained with the backstage quick-changes, and the obvious use of props jokingly made the play work. There were times where they held up window frames to look out, they stood on trunks and acted out a train sequence. All of it somehow worked together in the Alfred Hitchcock meets Monty Python production.

Directed by Joel Sass, “39 Steps” begins with Hannay heading to the theater for an evening out, and by the end of the night finds a dead body in his lap. Caught in a maze of murder, espionage and flirtatious entanglements, Hannay finds himself leaving the British music hall to the moors of Scotland and back to the London Palladium in search of a plausible alibi and the identity of the killer.

“Half the fun of doing “The 39 Steps” is getting a chance to conjure up an authentic atmosphere of “Hicthcockian” mystery, eroticism and paranoia,” said Sass. “I had wondered if in the midst of all the crazy game-playing, that part of the story might be lost; but you can sit in the audience and hear the gasps and the murmurs when our hero is about to step unknowingly into a trap, or a love interest from the previous act shows up. We’re trying to pay homage to the artistic conventions of Hitchcock’s suspense aesthetic while simultaneously doing an affectionate send-up of those same conventions. The audience derives humor from the fact that they can recognize what is being parodied, in addition to the fact that what they’re watching is actually funny all on its own.”

“39 Steps” is twice removed from the original John Buchan novel. After Alfred Hitchcock adapted the novel into a film, Patrick Barlow adapted the film into this play.


If you go

What: “Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps”

Where: Arizona Theatre Company at 343 South Scott Avenue

Tickets: are $31-$56

Information: Call 622-2823, or log on to www.arizonatheatre.org

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