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Local Theatre Spoofs Hitchcock

January 29, 2017

It also hints at the role theater needs to play in building community resistance to the Trump madness

The other night I was reminded of how precious local theatre is when I saw a production of The 39 Steps in Eugene, Oregon.

The play is a spoof on filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock’s films using The 39 Steps, his 1935 spy thriller, to provide continuity to a script that alludes to, and even reenacts scenes from, several of his 57 films. I counted at least five, including Rear Window, North By Northwest, The Lady Vanishes, Vertigo, and The Man Who Knew Too Much.

Following a script that British playwright Patrick Barlow adapted from the John Buchan novel, a four-member cast showed the audience at the Oregon Contemporary Theater can accomplish. There were no lavish sets, no fancy costumes, and certainly no computer-generated graphics. This production succeeded because of four talented and energetic actors, a competent technical staff, and an inventive director.

From the moment Richard Hannay, played superbly by Tom Wilson, miraculously slinks under the dead body of secret agent Annabella Smith, played equally well by Inga R. Wilson, the audience knows this is going to be a quality theatre experience. And it certainly is.

Coupled with the constantly moving antics of Colin Law and Reese Madden, the two Wilsons romp through more than 30 roles from Hitchcock’s legendary filmography all with a respectful glint in director John Schmor’s eye. He knows how to celebrate the master of suspense while also poking fun at his sometimes over-the-top cinematic scenes.

By the way, Law and Madden deserve much kudos for amusing us with their ever changing personas from train conductors to Bobbies, radio announcers to airplane pilots, and even a Scottish married couple managing a hotel.

There is some fine talent in this play. It was also necessarily an acrobatic talent. No one in attendance will easily forget the train scenes, with trench coats flowing in the wind, the handcuff scenes, or the car scenes where the sparse props are cleverly converted into a police cruiser.

Finally, there is the political meeting scene where Hannay finds himself introduced to a local electorate and, rising to the occasion created by his false identity, delivers an anti-fascist speech. After a week of Trump executive actions, lies, and bullying, it seemed a fitting commentary. Hitchcock was writing about the rise of Nazi Germany, of course, but it resonated strongly with the OCT audience.

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