"A little bit of James Bond, a little bit of Masterpiece Theatre, and a lot of Monty Python" — that's how director William Marlowe describes the farcical Hitchcock spoof The 39 Steps (at Interplayers through Oct. 30).
Our hero, a dashing chap called Richard Hannay (played by Damon Mentzer) finds himself up against an international spy ring after a femme fatale (Alisha Gunn) implores him to help her and then gets herself murdered in his London flat. What ensues is a wild goose chase that involves locomotives racing up to the Scottish Highlands and narrow escapes from the coppers while Hannay finds himself handcuffed to a beautiful woman (also played by Gunn, who is the sister of Brian, currently starring as Buddy Holly at the Civic).
All the other parts (and there are many dozens of them) — vaudeville performers, underwear salesmen, Bobbies, bed and breakfast operators, thugs, detectives, orators — are played by two "clowns" (Damon Abdallah and Jerry Sciarrio).
The entire show — innovated by Patrick Barlow just five years ago, though it's based on a century-old novel and the 1935 Alfred Hitchcock film — needs to have a frantic and improvised feel. That's why Marlowe — in his directing debut at Interplayers, despite having worked on and off at the joint for two decades as backstage techie and as an actor — has chosen a "found props" approach: Junk will encircle the entire perimeter of Interplayers' thrust stage, with the four actors picking and choosing and making their costume changes in full view of the audience.
Despite the show's done-on-the-fly flavor, it's
technically challenging, with 200 lighting cues
and 135 sound cues (most of them in the first act, which has Hannay clinging to a speeding locomotive as he tries to outwit the coppers).
Barlow's script is almost verbatim to the movie, and it includes several allusions to other Hitchcock films, like North by Northwest and Rear Window. Marlowe has even incorporated a bit with a birdcage (and guess which 1963 film starring Tippi Hedren that alludes to).
A lot of the sound effects are done by the actors, with Sciarrio vocally imitating the sounds of a 1930s clunker starting up.
Yeah, but will it be funny? Marlowe says that several times during rehearsals, "we had to stop to wipe away tears."