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The 39 Steps – Murder and Comic Mayhem Done in Classic Hitchcock Style -The Little Theatre of Alexandria

Jordan Wright
October 29, 2013
Special to The Alexandria Times
 

The 39 Steps is a rollicking send up of and tribute to Alfred Hitchcock.  References to his classics abound – – The Birds, Dial M for Murder, North by Northwest, Psycho, Rear View Window and more.  You’ll have fun picking out some of your faves.

Bob Cohen and Erik Harrison (Everyone else) with Jeff McDermott (Richard Hannay) and Elizabeth Keith (Pamela) - Photos by Keith Waters/Kx Photography

Bob Cohen and Erik Harrison (Everyone else) with Jeff McDermott (Richard Hannay) and Elizabeth Keith (Pamela) – Photos by Keith Waters/Kx Photography

We come upon our hapless hero, Richard Hannay (Jeff McDermott) in a state of high anxiety.  His life is worthless, he claims, because nothing exciting ever happens to him.  “Find something mindless,” he suggests to himself aloud.  “I know – – a trip to the theatre!”, a remark which gives the audience their first clue that this is going to be a night of cooked-up hilarity. “It’s music hall and vaudeville – – pure theatricality,” Ted Deasy told me in March of 2010 when I interviewed him at DC’s Warner Theatre where he played the lead.

Elizabeth Keith (Pamela) and Jeff McDermott (Richard Hannay) - Photos by Keith Waters/Kx Photography

Elizabeth Keith (Pamela) and Jeff McDermott (Richard Hannay) – Photos by Keith Waters/Kx Photography

At the theatre Hannay sits beside a glamorous lady in red (Elizabeth Keith) who quickly insinuates herself into his uneventful life with a beguiling tale of German spies, an unsolved murder and a clandestine rendezvous in a castle on the Scottish moors.  Intrigued he takes her back to his flat for a nightcap, where she is stabbed by a mysterious stranger.  It becomes our hero’s challenge to solve this wacky whodunit.

The play is an adaptation of the eponymous Hitchcock classic.  Borrowing on the 1935 film, writers Nobby Dimon and Simon Corble came up with a version to be played by four actors who perform between 130 to 150 roles.  Some “roles” are actually inanimate objects and some of the actors change characters over and over, often playing three characters simultaneously.

The trick is to make the mayhem look effortless.  The effect is achieved by piling on schticks from vaudeville, comedia and slapstick using old theatrical styles and even Shakespearean asides.  The physical part is done in a supersonic pace that leaves the audience breathless.

Jeff McDermott (Richard Hannay) and Bob Cohen (Everyone else) - Photos by Keith Waters/Kx

Jeff McDermott (Richard Hannay) and Bob Cohen (Everyone else) – Photos by Keith Waters/Kx Photography

McDermott is on stage throughout giving the play its anchor, while Elizabeth Keith plays the three female roles (though there is a bit of cross-dressing in some of the roles) quite handily.  Bob Cohen and Erik Harrison, whose comic timing is, shall I say, “drop dead” perfect, manage to portray the dozens of others.

The 1930’s mood is cleverly set by lighting designers Ken and Patti Crowley who created over 150 evocative atmospheres for this electrifying production using both a flat-screen TV and a projection screen for some of the images.  How they manage to suggest bi-plane bombadiers is for me to know and for you to find out.

Elizabeth Keith (Pamela), Bob Cohen (Everyone else) and Jeff McDermott (Richard Hannay) -  Photos by Keith Waters/Kx Photography

Elizabeth Keith (Pamela), Bob Cohen (Everyone else) and Jeff McDermott (Richard Hannay) –
Photos by Keith Waters/Kx Photography

Through November 16th at The Little Theatre of Alexandria, 600 Wolfe Street. For tickets and information call the box office at 703 683-0496 or visit www.thelittletheatre.com

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