Stage review: Clever comedy is afoot in CLO Cabaret's 'The 39 Steps'
May 28, 2016 12:00 AM
Allan Snyder, left, Luke Halferty, Megan Pickrell and Quinn Patrick Shannon are on the move in CLO Cabaret's "The 39 Steps," at the Cabaret at Theater Square, Downtown, through Aug. 14.
Megan Pickrell as Pamela and Allan Snyder as Richard Hannay are on the run in CLO Cabaret's "The 39 Steps," at the Cabaret at Theater Square, Downtown, through Aug. 14.
By Christopher Rawson / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
When is a cabaret not a cabaret, or a play not a play?
When it’s “The 39 Steps,” the unusually amusing entertainment just launched on a three-month stay at the CLO Cabaret.
I mean “unusually amusing” not in the fact that it amuses but in the way that it goes about it. “The 39 Steps” is simultaneously a serious adaptation and a giddy parody of the 1935 Alfred Hitchcock movie of the same name — which is to say it wants to have its melodrama but (mainly) mock it, too.
You could see that unusual eccentricity in the reaction of the opening night audience, which didn’t respond as much as it could to all the jokes, tugged as they were between interest in the developing spy story and happy pleasure in the goofy way the telling is pursued.
‘The 39 Steps’
Where: CLO Cabaret, 655 Penn Ave., Downtown.
When: Through Aug. 14; 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday; see website for additional performances.
Tickets: Tickets: $36.75-$49.75; clocabaret.com or 412-456-6666.
Much of that pleasure is in the breakneck wizardry of the cast of four. At the center is Allan Snyder, playing Richard Hannay, the nice Hitchockian everyguy (think Jimmy Stewart or Cary Grant) who is both narrator and central character. He is chiefly abetted by Megan Pickrell, who starts out as a mysterious femme fatale, morphs into a dowdy Scots farm wife, and ends up as a spunky version of the Hitchockian blonde (think Eva Marie Saint or Grace Kelly).
But the unusualness of this stage adaptation by Patrick Barlow is that the most delicious theatrical focus is in the dozens and dozens of other characters (they claim more than 100), some appearing for only a few seconds, all played by Luke Halferty and Quinn Patrick Shannon. Mr. Halferty is the taller one, Mr. Quinn more rotund. For all their disguises, you always know it’s them, which is a good part of the fun.
At this point in a review it’s usual to provide a snappy little plot summary, and while this plot is mainly an excuse for the verve of its telling, you do find yourself rooting for the hero. Suffice it to say that, accidentally possessing information crucial to national security, he’s pursued by both bad guys and police, while the blonde complicates the eventual denouement, to the pleasure of all.
Monty Python may come to mind or, for an American analogy, Charles Ludlam, who in his many parodies could simultaneously play comedy and melodrama.
The whole thing comes in at only an hour and three-quarters, including the intermission — the better to eat and drink (tip your hard-working waiters well) — but even so, it has a zillion moving parts, from characters to props to costumes. How many hats, wigs and other accouterments are there? Special kudos to costume designer Stephanie Shaw, as well as the ubiquitous Tony Ferrieri and Andy Ostrowski (sets and lights) and Bob Bollman (sound). The sound is inflated movie music, presumably lifted from Hitchcock scores. And see how many Hitchcock movie titles you can detect woven into the dialogue.
Holding it all together is indefatigable director Guy Stroman. The physical comedy he’s orchestrated is a wonder. The show will benefit from repetition, allowing the cast to polish the many clever details that account for its cumulative comic power.
“The 39 Steps” is a small but distinctive pleasure. I saw it at City Theatre six years ago and more recently in London (where you could hardly miss it — it ran nine years). The comic invention of each production makes it worth revisiting.
But still, what can that title possibly mean?
Senior theater critic Christopher Rawson: 412-216-1944.
To report inappropriate comments, abuse and/or repeat offenders, please send an email to
firstname.lastname@example.org and include a link to the article and a copy of the comment. Your report will be reviewed in a timely manner.