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Arts and Entertainment

Theater Review: The 39 Steps at the Ahmanson

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The 39 Steps Photo 2.jpg
Eric Hissom, Claire Brownwell, Scott Parkinson and Ted Deasy in The 39 Steps | Photo by Craig Schwartz.

Eric Hissom, Claire Brownwell, Scott Parkinson and Ted Deasy in The 39 Steps | Photo by Craig Schwartz.
The 39 Steps, which opened at the Ahmanson Theatre earlier this week, is a re-imagining of the Hitchcock classic thriller. And boy, old Alfred’s never been re-imagined quite like this: a high-energy mix of mystery, mayhem and Monty Python-esque humor.

The stage play is a fun, spoofy sendup of the 1935 film about a bored English bachelor who gets caught up in a ring of espionage and murder, with a little romance thrown in for good measure. What’s most amazing about the play is that there are only four actors--Claire Brownwell, Ted Deasy, Eric Hissom and Scott Parkinson--playing more than 100 characters on stage. It’s old-fashioned slapstick comedy and it works well.

Richard Hannay (Deasy) meets a woman (Brownwell) at the theater claiming to be a spy. She ends up dead in his apartment, and he realizes that he a) is being framed for her murder and b) needs to save England from a nefarious network wanting to destroy the country. Hannay does the only thing he can do: He runs away to Scotland on a series of madcap adventures encountering many country folk and police, many played to the hilt by the hilarious scene-stealers Hissom and Parkinson.

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Hitchcock fans will love all the sly and not-so-sly references to his films like North by Northwest, Rear Window, Psycho, etc. The actors occasionally break the fourth wall and talk to the audience directly, letting them in on the fun. There’s no fancy special effects aside from a few fog machines and prop guns: just fast and furious physical comedy, sight gags and quick change cross-dressing.

Brownwell played the bored, droll Englishman role almost a little too well--his voice projection was just a little difficult to hear during opening night performance from where we sat, but it got better as the play got rolling.

If you’re in need of an evening of heavy, angst-ridden or experimental theater, then The 39 Steps might not be for you. But if you're in the mood for an old-fashioned screwball comedy, then definitely head over to the Ahmanson. The play’s only in town for three weeks.

The 39 Steps

Ahmanson Theatre

135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles
Tuesday-Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 2 & 8 pm; Sunday at 1 & 6:30 pm
Tickets start at $20-$80