JAY ON BROADWAY
"Alfred Hitchcock's The 39 Steps"
There was once a chilling and surprising Alfred Hitchcock movie called "The 39 Steps," about a man who inadvertently stumbles into a murder and spy case, and an intriguing character named Mr. Memory.
Cort Theatre, 138 W. 48th St., New York. Performances at 7 p.m. Tues., 8 p.m. Wed.-Sat., 2 p.m. Wed., Sat.; 3 p.m. Sun. Telecharge: (212) 239-6200.
You don't need to know or remember that 1935 black-and-white gem to get a kick out of the new stage play "Alfred Hitchcock's The 39 Steps," which reopened on Broadway Thursday night after an earlier run at the Roundabout Theatre Company. This version, adapted by Patrick Barlow, uses the film as a launching point for a wild ride of an adventure of theatrical ingenuity and comedy.
Four actors play all the parts, and only Charles Edwards as that innocent victim, Richard Hannay, stays himself throughout the performance.
Anyone who saw the inventive "Around the World in 80 Days" at Florida Studio Theatre two years ago will have some sense of how the show is produced. A small cast creates a huge world with a few props and pieces of furniture.
Cliff Saunders and Arnie Burton change characters in a beat with the shift of a hat or addition of a wig or coat. Jennifer Ferrin plays three vastly different women, all of whom cause Hannay a mixture of comfort, longing and danger.
Edwards is joyously adept at dealing with the frenzy that surrounds him, and blissfully unaware of whatever danger he might be in.
Director Maria Aitken works her actors at a feverish pace, but they're all skilled enough to pull off each move and attitude change with a delightful winking nod at the lunacy of it all.
And, thanks to the clever and simple sets and costumes by Peter McKintosh, it all comes off as a serious story that perfectly blends the humor with the tension of the mystery angles of the story.
Best of all is how it reminds us of the wonders of how theatrical ingenuity can work so well with an individual's sense of imagination.