Best of Broadway’s silly Hitchcock homage

For celebrated British actress and director Maria (pronounced “Mariah,” as in Carey) Aitken, the most rewarding thing about her success with the hit show “Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps” is the reaction she witnesses from all types of audiences.

“Gray-haired people and children laugh at the same things,” says the Tony Award-nominated Aitken, who directed the stage production of the famous 1935 movie starring Robert Donat as a man on the run.

“The hero has a ludicrous charm,” says Aitken, who has seen the show travel to Australia, Japan, Israel and even South Korea, where patrons are particularly amused.

The show, which won two Tonys, a Drama Desk, and the British Laurence Olivier Award for Best Comedy, is bound to please San Francisco audiences, too. It opens this week and runs through Jan. 3 at the Curran Theatre.

Though viewers don’t necessarily need to see the movie to appreciate the actors’ talent — the play serves up wild stagecraft and laughs — Aitken says the show, a real homage to the film, follows it “almost frame by frame.” About 60 percent of the dialogue in Patrick Barlow’s script is from the film.

And, she says, “Of course Hitchcock appears.”

She admits the balance between jokes and suspense leans more toward the comedy in the live show, calling it “profoundly silly.”

Aitken, whose varied career includes acting (she’s possibly best known to Americans for her role in the 1988 movie “A Fish Called Wanda”), teaching, writing and directing, most recently has focused on comedy. While it’s more difficult to do than drama, and hard to teach, she says, “I seem to have a knack for it.”

Among the prime pleasures of “The 39 Steps” is the magic the cast of just four actors creates with no props other than smoke, trunks, ladders and clever theatricality. “Audiences enjoy watching actors working their butts off,” she says.

There are varied reasons why the show never features big-name performers, who, by their nature, can be distracting, Also, finding a TV star to do a Scottish accent, or one with incredible movement skills, is difficult, Aitken says, adding, “You cannot recast properly when you have a big star; we don’t want to have to compete with ourselves.”

Aitken, who hopes to come to The City to check out the show during the run, says, “I think all British people love San Francisco. It has real weather.”

lkatz@sfexaminer.com

 

IF YOU GO

Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps

Presented by Best of Broadway

Where: Curran Theatre, 445 Geary St., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. most Tuesdays-Fridays; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; 2 p.m. Wednesdays; 2 and 7:30 p.m. most Sundays; no performances Dec. 24-25; closes Jan. 3
Tickets: $35 to $80
Contact: (415) 512-7770, www.shnsf.com

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

As city schools weigh reopening, doubts about safety dominate conversations with teachers

‘If I don’t feel safe as an educator, how am I going to be prepared to teach?’

Health Department guidelines for schools set rigorous standards for social distance, cleanliness

Health department guidance issued Wednesday for in-person instruction at San Francisco schools… Continue reading

Family of slain six-year-old boy seeks answers

‘He was going to be somebody’

Study finds SF paid family leave measure has yielded limited benefits so far

More fathers take parental leave, but many employees unaware of program

Return of indoor dining put on hold due to rise in coronavirus cases

San Francisco will no longer allow indoor dining to reopen next week… Continue reading

Most Read