|THE 39 STEPS|
The Roundabout Theatre probably isn't doing itself any favors by billing its quirky Olivier Award-winning transplant as Alfred Hitchcock meets Monty Python. As both a send-up and an homage of one of the suspense master's lesser known films, this freewheeling stage adaptation (technically based on John Buchan's book) employs enough lighthearted tomfoolery to induce a few chuckles but hardly reaches the gut-busting hilarity of a show like the Monty Python musical Spamalot.
What's fun is the playfulness that director Maria Aitken and adaptor Patrick Barlow bestow on the proceedings, in which four actors play an endless array of characters. The majority fall to Cliff Saunders and Arnie Burton, who change roles, accents and even genders, sometimes without stepping off the stage, by doffing a hat or donning a coat. And rather than using high-tech and expensive effects to depict chase scenes, trains, cars and wind, the show turns its low budget to its advantage. Actors flap their clothes to simulate wind, and rock back and forth to create the motion of a train. They also make verbal and visual references to Hitchcock's film oeuvre.
In the most amusing scene, miniature puppet figures cast against the curtain depict protagonist Richard Hannay (Charles Edwards) fleeing from police who suspect him of murder. As a Hitchcock silhouette looks on, Hannay jumps into the water and rides the Loch Ness monster to safety. Edwards, who created the role in London, is the ideal pipe-smoking, plaid-suited halfwit who unwittingly gets ensnared in a dangerous game of espionage. Jennifer Ferrin adroitly switches characters and love interests as a trio of admiring women.
But at an hour and 45 minutes with intermission, the jokes run out of steam faster than an ailing radiator on a frigid January night. And even a Hitchcock spoof should crackle instead of fizzle.
By Diane Snyder
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Arnie Burton, Charles Edwards, Jennifer Ferrin, Cliff Saunders
American Airlines Theatre
227 West 42nd Street
New York, NY 10036