Just opened at Indiana Repertory Theatre (IRT) is “The 39 Steps,” a tongue-in-cheek look at Alfred Hitchcock’s highly successful film (1935) of the same name. The Tony Award-winning production takes four talented actors and transforms them into almost two dozen characters while fighting spies, fog and each other.
The storyline follows the film in true British farce style — zaniness at a neck-breaking pace. The talent was in true IRT style — top-notch and perfectly matched for the task. The performers include Matthew Brumlow as Richard Hannay, the reluctant spy, and Sarah Nealis portraying Annabella Schmidt, Margaret, pilot #2 and a few other female roles (but not all of them). The remaining characters are performed nicely by Rob Johansen as Clown 1 and Tom Aulino as Clown 2.
Hitchcock aficionados will catch references to the great director’s other films (keep count) and appreciate this outlandish take on the Whodunit. From the moment the show begins through its last bow, the hilarity doesn’t cease. One dry British quip after another collides head on in a Keystone Cops manner, with Monte Python antics.
Hannay is accused incorrectly of murdering a woman and is hunted by officials throughout England and Scotland as he strikes out to solve the mystery, clear his name and stop top secrets from leaving the country. Brumlow’s drollness as Hannay is made more pronounced and more amusing by sheer contrast to the others. Bravo to him for being able to stay straight-faced throughout the adventure.
No Hitchcock film is complete without the “Icy Blonde” love interest. In this case, the fair-haired female loathes Hannay and quickly turns him into the police. Eventually they end up handcuffed to each other and on the run together. Nealis’ Margaret smoothly handles the antagonist’s role, particularly during rapid-fire discussions with Hannay. Delightfully classic Hitchcock was the entire scene at the country inn where the handcuffed couple meet the inn's owners several years their senior.
Johansen and Aulino are sheer comedic brilliance with each other, separately and with the other characters. Quick-change effects create a flurry of motion with a fluidity to be admired. Never losing a beat, an accent or a line, the two bring the activity and storyline to its height and keep it there.
Bottom Line: IRT’s “The 39 Steps” is a must-see for Hitchcock fans, fans of British humor and for anyone who enjoys madcap zaniness times ten.
Photos: Julie Curry Photography
Elizabeth J. Musgrave is a syndicated columnist, travel writer, music, restaurant and performing arts critic. Catch her as Indy’s Arts & Entertainment Adviser on 93 WIBC and follow her on Twitter @ejmusgrave1 and Facebook.
Gotta Go is published in the following newspapers: South Sider Voice, Indiana Weekender, New Palestine Reporter, Pendleton Times Reporter and Fortville-McCordsville Reporter.