Life just became complicated for Richard Hannay in “The 39 Steps,” a delightedly witty parody of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1935 classic movie. Even with Richard’s “dark wavy hair, piercing blue eyes and a very attractive pencil moustache” he’s unprepared when a mysterious woman of unknown origins enters his life, revealing a conspiracy of national proportions.
This wonderfully inventive tale follows poor Richard in a mad dash throughout the United Kingdom, turning his droll life upside down with the assistance of three women, a handful of spies and inspectors, and a wide variety of colorful bystanders. This comedic homage is laden with quick-witted allusions to other Hitchcock films, such as “Vertigo,” “Psycho” and “Strangers on a Train.” But even for audiences that are experiencing Hitchcock for the first time, this hilarious performance will have them reeling with laughter.
The massive cast of characters in “The 39 Steps” is masterfully performed by only four Hilberry actors. Michael Manocchio plays Richard Hannay, while Bevin Bell-Hall, an actress of many faces and accents, plays all three female characters. Bell-Hall explains that her characters “are each different tropes of women,” including a femme fatale, a prissy rich heroine, and a young girl that captures the whimsical elements that are so common in Hitchcock’s psychological dramas.
The remaining characters – and there are many– are either played by Brandy Joe Plambeck or Michael Phillip Thomas. These “clowns,” as they’re called, are constantly making lightning-fast costume changes, even going as far as to play multiple characters at the same time. With the swap of a hat or coat, these gifted actors take on different personas, making each of their characters easy to distinguish.
Among the many charming qualities woven throughout “The 39 Steps,” one of the most intriguing aspects is a trio of stagehands responsible for acting out a variety of props and sound effects throughout the show. Using their bodies to create furniture, cars and even theatrical sheep, these actors, including Devri Chism, Julian David Colletta and Santino Craven, provide a visually stimulating atmosphere in an otherwise minimalistic set. They also deliver an interesting element to the show by interacting with the characters in strange and comedic ways. “In the beginning, the stagehands are my armchair,” says Manocchio fondly, “and it’s sort of fun to have a relationship with your armchair. It’s giving you attitude, and you’re giving it right back.”
The profound silliness of “The 39 Steps” is sure to amuse audiences from all sides of the spectrum. When referring to the show, Manocchio describes it like a roller coaster. “There are moments where it’s like I get on the ride in the beginning, and it just goes, and I don’t feel in control of it. And I’m not sure I’m supposed to….It’s a beast of its own. It’s big, it’s farcical, it’s theatrical.”
Tickets for “The 39 Steps,” which is running from April 10-25, are available by calling the Hilberry Theatre Box Office at (313) 577-2972, by going online at Hilberry1.com or by visiting the box office at 4743 Cass Avenue at the corner of Hancock Street.
Photos by Bruce Giffin