Last week my parents were in town and as always, we hit up the theater. Quite frankly, most of what's on Broadway right now is not that appealing to me. Obviously, I'm DYING to see Hamilton, but it's sold out forever and I'm still trying to get tickets to The Book of Mormon, but that's entirely beside the point.
The parents and I decided to take a small gamble on an off-broadway show, 39 Steps at Union Square Theater. It's a comedy spoof of the 1935 Hitchcock Film Noir that chronicles the madcap adventures of one bored British man, Richard Hannay, after an encounter with a mysterious femme fatal who passes on a crucial state secret to him.
Sound intriguing? I'll bet it does.
But rather than worshiping at the alter of Alfred Hitchcock, which is quite tempting, the play turns the whole thing on it's ear, rendering everything from 1930s pre-Stanislavski acting styles to the conventions of Film Noir into a farce. Each joke is well-timed, expertly executed, and usually had the audience laughing about ten seconds after the punchline.
The most impressive thing about the show was the sheer stamina of the actors. The whole company consists of four actors, most of whom play at least three parts (the one who doesn't is Robert Petkoff as Richard Hannay), with endless costume changes, multiple accents/languages/dialects, unbelievably physical blocking, and all at a pace that will leave your head spinning. I was delighted from start to finish and laughed out loud on multiple occasions.
Note: I'm not sure why, but I almost never verbally or physically respond to things I am watching, getting me to laugh audibly, smile, cry, move my body in any way, when I'm an audience member is extremely rare. It's weird, I know, and leads most people to think I hate everything (I don't).
If I have any true criticism of 39 Steps, it's that the actors seemed to be a bit too "in on the joke". It's incredibly hard to keep a comedy fresh. After a while you know what jokes will land, which will go over the audiences head, about how long it takes the audience to get it, and what jokes the audience usually likes best. This leads to what I think of as "Seinfeld Syndrome". When I watch Seinfeld, I get the distinct feeling that the character Jerry is aware he is on a TV show about him and his ridiculous friends. If you watch closely you can see him anticipating jokes and silently laughing in his head along with the audience rather than simply existing in the universe of the show; Jerry is a bit too in on the joke.
That being said, 39 Steps is an expertly-acted, fantastic play that will have you laughing from start to finish. It's a play that is great for New Yorkers and tourists alike , Hitchcock fans and newbies. It was the perfect show for me and my parents to enjoy on a Friday evening and I'd recommend it to anyone!
Here is the show's website, check it out and get your tickets, but hurry because it's closing on January 3rd! If you don't laugh once, I'll send you cookies as an apology.