"Alfred Hitchcock's The 39 Steps", where spy flick meets just the right amount of shtick

Cape Playhouse scores with its second crowd pleaser of the season

By Maggie Kulbokas

"Alfred Hitchcock's The 39 Steps", a two-time Tony winner, now showing at the Cape Playhouse is a remarkable feat.  By the numbers, it is four actors playing over 130 parts in over a dozen locations. All on one stage in just under two hours.

The witty whodunit was adapted by Patrick Barlow from John Buchan's original 1915 novel and Alfred Hitchcock's 1935 film (also based on the novel) both by the same name.

From start to finish, "39 Steps" is a satirical roller coaster ride through the ever popular genre of intrigue and spy fiction.  It's funny, it's clever and it's a real treat for Hitchcock fans who have a good sense of humor and a great eye for homage.

Set in 1930s England, "39 Steps" is the story of Richard Hannay, a respectable 30-something Brit stuck in a rather ho-hum life. He's searching for a little spark, a little excitement and he more than gets it in the form of mysterious and sultry femme fatale, Anna Bella Schmidt. 

Schmidt draws Hannay into a web of espionage--a world invisible to the average Joe, the world of the 39 Steps, a top secret spy organization, where men are easily rubbed out, dames can't be trusted and government secrets are available to the highest bidder.  A murder makes an innocent Hannay suspect number one, and as a fugitive, he embarks on an adventure from London to the moors of Scotland and back, where along the way, he follows a trail of clues and meets a cast of characters plucked from the pages of dime store paperbacks and film noir.

The true mystery may be how a handful of people can pull off such a huge production.

Howard McGillin as Hannay is debonair and believable, troubled yet trustworthy--a hero the audience can get behind.  McGillin keeps a steady beat as the male lead, his sole character in the play.  Swirling around him, the other three actors, Jeffrey Kuhn, Michael Keyloun and Margaret Loesser Robinson weave a character list that is colorful and hilarious.

Robinson takes on the three female leads, while  Michael Keyloun and Jeffrey Kuhn, billed as Clown 1 and Clown 2, round out the rest of a seemingly huge cast.  Kuhn was especially adept at delivering his lines with a slapstick style reminiscent of Tim Conway in the original Carol Burnett television skits. Directed by Mark Shanahan, the crazy, adventurous plot is well-staged and fluid.

Clever writing and spot on acting make this a performance that really works. From bumbling inspectors to strangers on a train and Scottish inn keepers, the accents and physical comedy alone must have been something to master.

And the physicality of the show is key. The stage designed by Yoshi Tanokura, is somewhat stark and the lighting by Christopher S. Chambers and props although functional, are limited. Interestingly enough, it is the cast that physically creates much of the scenery and believable scene transitions where no real change has taken place.

"39 Steps" has all the earmarks of a spy flick, with just the right amount of shtick.

"Alfred Hitchcock's The 39 Steps" runs June 21 through July 3, 2010, Monday through Saturday at 8pm with matinees on Wednesdays at 2pm, the first Saturday at 4pm and the second Thursday at 2pm.

The Cape Playhouse is located at 820 Route 6A in Dennis Village.  Visit the box office online or call 508-385-3911 for reservations. Coming up next: "Plaid Tidings".

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