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Monday, March 18 , 2019, 9:35 am | Fair 59º


Gerald Carpenter: PCPA Theaterfest Takes ‘39 Steps’ to Solvang

Production moves from Santa Maria, and will open Thursday and run through July 3

The PCPA Theaterfest production of Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps is moving from the Marian Theater in Santa Maria to the Solvang Festival Theater in Solvang, opening Thursday and running through July 3.

Richard Hannay (Robert Donat) travels apprehensively to Scotland in Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps.
Richard Hannay (Robert Donat) travels apprehensively to Scotland in Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps.

It was adapted by Patrick Barlow from the novel by John Buchan, from the movie of Alfred Hitchcock, as well as from the “original concept” by two gentlemen with the euphonious names Nobby Dimon and Simon Corble.

In the PCPA show, called a “suspenseful-romantic-comedy,” four actors play more than 100 characters. The four are Andrew Philpot, who plays the hero, Richard Hannay; Stephanie Philo, who plays three of the female characters; and two performers identified as Clown #1 (Peter Hadres) and Clown #2 (Evans Eden Jarnefeldt), who play everybody else.

The production is directed by Mark Booher, with sets by Kent Homchick, costumes by Juliane Starks, lighting by Tamar Geist and sound by Elisabeth Rebel.

“The play remains very close to the film, particularly in terms of its frenetic timing,” according to PCPA. “But putting the movie — a farce-like whirlwind adventure — on stage requires ingenious theatrical devises to instantly go from a chase scene on a train, to a plane crash, transform into a luxurious Scottish manor, then to a London flat, or suddenly become the London Palladium. Also occurring at breakneck speed are nearly 100 costume changes, which often happen right before the audience in the blink of an eye.”

Buchan (1875-1940) described a “shocker” as an adventure where the events in the story are unlikely and the reader is only just able to believe that they really happened. The 39 Steps was his first “shocker.” He wrote it in 1915, when he was sick in bed (duodenal ulcer), so the events in the novel take place during the run-up to World War I — rather than World War II, as in the 1935 Hitchcock film.

In either case, the villains are Germans, and they are ruthless and sinister enough, though neither Buchan nor Hitchcock was in a position to understand the exponentially greater evil of the Germans under the Nazis. When Hitchcock’s film came out, Buchan had just become governor-general of Canada and he died in that post in 1940, shortly after World War II began.

Buchan had a sense of humor and a light touch with a story, although the “farce-like” elements are Hitchcock’s own. Buchan was particularly adept at describing landscapes — especially scenes of his native Scotland, but many other places as well — and these, alas, suffer from the black-and-white process shots of the Hitchcock movie — and, of course, are absent from the stage productions.

The Thirty-Nine Steps at Solvang plays at 8 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. Tickets are $31 to $35. For single tickets and more information, click here or call the box office at 805.922.8313.

— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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