Cast of the 39 Steps at ICT Wears Many Hats-Literally
I’ve been a fan of Alfred Hitchcock’s films for as long as I can remember. One of the things I love about his films is that I can imagine them in a live setting. Scenes like Norman Bates’ explanation of “some place” to an uncomfortable Marion Crane in Psycho ranks among my favorites. I remember watching 1935’s the 39 Steps a few times with my grandma and loving it. A murder mystery through the hills of Scotland, the 39 Steps has also become a successful Broadway play and recipient of the Olivier Award (Best New Comedy). I was thrilled to check out opening weekend of International City Theatre’s (ICT) production of the melodrama.
The 39 Steps at ICT Theatre
I had been to Long Beach’s ICT several years back. While some assume they must head to LA to catch live theatre, not so. Long Beach is home to just as much arts and culture as the City of Angels. ICT lays in the heart of Downtown, at the Convention Center and whistling distance to the Queen Mary and Long Beach Aquarium. Right by the water, I welcomed that ocean air after a warm day.
Gorgeous chandeliers and art work adorn the lobby, with its purple hued carpet and lovely furniture pieces. Perfect to enjoy your cocktail or intermission snack. The theatre is compact, with a capacity of just under 300. There’s not a bad place in the house and makes for such an intimate, almost interactive production. No binoculars needed here!
The film had a moderate sized cast. Yet, Patrick Barlow’s adaptation for the stage? A mere group of 4 players act as hundreds of different roles over the course of the 2 hour show.
The 39 Steps opens with our heroine, Richard Hannay (Eric Wentz), attending a performance in London. In the middle of a demonstration by a “Mr. Memory”, a side-show type of character who has the ability to recall any memory at the drop of a hat, gun shots go off. In the midst of the excitement, a scared woman (Ashley Morton, who is simply credited as ‘Woman’ and plays multiple parts) collapses into Richard’s arms and they abruptly end up at the perplexed chap’s apartment.
The peculiar blonde explains that she’s a spy being chased by assassins. She claims to have top-secret military information and mumbles some nonsense about ‘The 39 Steps’ without explaining what this means.
Who Done It?
Alas, Richard’s mysterious spy ends up dead. She stumbles in fatally stabbed, clutching a map of the Scottish Highlands and falls dead in his arms. She warns Richard to flee as they want him dead next. He heads to the train station, map in hand, and heads to the Highlands. An aspect I love to Hitchcock’s films are the foreshadowings. I feel the late, great director would give a nod at Richard’s strong first and final meetings with the spy on stage.
Being accused of murder, Richard embarks on a hilarious, zany adventure that begins with antics on the train. As he tries to hide his identity, we get to see many hats worn at once as Man #1 (Louis A. Lotorto) and Man #2 (Bo Foxworth) act out as seat passengers, policemen and newspaper sales boys. During this scene, these incredibly gifted artists manage to move at lighting speed as they alternate between these multiple characters and their banter. They’re literally wearing so many hats as Wentz’s Richard struggles to keep his identity hidden all the while.
It’s here that we’re reintroduced to Morton. This time, as an attractive train attendee who, despite Richard’s pleas to conceal him, exposes the ‘murderer’. In another stand out scene, the 4 performers act out a ‘chase’ on top of a train, the ultimate throwback to the comedic murder mysteries back in the day. With minimal props and less than a half a dozen cast of players, the 39 Steps is an excellent example of the power of your imagination.
A Love Letter to Hitchcock and the Theatre
As more characters are brought to life by the creativity and diversity of the cast, many layers are unfolded as the comedy progresses. While Director, Jamie Torcellini, does a fantastic job at paying homage to Alfred Hitchcock, it also is a love letter to live comedic theatre.
From portrayals as wives and hit men, Foxworth and Lotorto manage to keep each new introduction fresh and on our toes. Their countless roles show what great chemistry the actors have and even bring to mind great ‘Frick and Frack’ characters. Think Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton, or even Laurel and Hardy.
The chemistry is equally there with Wentz and Morton. Despite portraying 2 quite different roles, Morton looks all the part of an old Hollywood starlet. While Wentz brought to mind 39 Steps’ original Richard, Robert Donat.
The show relies heavily on fun Hitchcock references, and we even hear the famous Psycho shower scene music a few times. At first, this distracted me. Having been a fan of the film, I felt it was cheapening an otherwise great production. Then, I realized: the 39 Steps is not only a play based on a Hitchcock film. It also serves as a theatrical tribute to Hitchcock. The plot remains close to the film, but adds in several lines and accents that will make the Hitchcock connoisseur smile.
As the question remains what, or who, is the 39 Steps? plenty more antics arise. You will have to find out for yourself!
The 39 Steps Plays Through July 8th
The 39 Steps is the perfect fun night out at the theatre. It would be suitable for kids, but over 10 to really enjoy. With Downtown Long Beach at your fingertips, arrive early and enjoy dinner or stay out late and hit the clubs. Parking is on-site and $15. Performances are Thursday through Sunday until July 8th. Learn more and book your tickets HERE.
(*Disclosure: I attended the 39 Steps as Media on behalf of this review. All opinions are my own.)