By Starla Pointer • Staff Writer • 

Hitchcock classic takes comic turn

The show will play at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays through Feb. 9. Tickets are $14 general and $12 students and seniors.

Director Ted Desel said “39 Steps” started out as a book by John Buchan, who was writing an adventure mystery for his nieces and grandchildren.

He encouraged the youngsters to be observant. That led to the title, as one of them noticed his home was 39 steps from the beach.

The 1915 story is filled with intrigue related to the times, the beginning of World War I.

Its main character is Richard Hannay, a Boer War veteran and adventurer — someone akin to Indiana Jones or Jason Bourne. After he learns a secret that’s vital to his country’s security, he goes through all sorts of trials in his attempt to deliver the message into the right hands.

In the 1930s, as another world war loomed, Hitchcock turned the tale into a suspenseful movie. The dark thriller is considered one of the director’s best films — in fact, one of the best British films ever made.

Three other film versions of the book have been made, but Hitchcock’s is considered the classic.

Patrick Barlow went back to the 1935 Hitchcock movie in developing the stage version of “The 39 Steps,” which Desel is directing at Gallery. The new version — part melodrama and part farce — premiered in London in 2005 and the U.S. in 2007.

In this humorous rendition, four actors play all the characters. In the Gallery staging, Richard Pratt plays Hannay, Julia Sargent plays the three women with whom he becomes involved, and Jeff Sargent and Caleb Kearns play all the rest, sometimes portraying multiple characters in a single scene.

The new play alludes along the way to other Hitchcock films, such as “Psycho,” “North by Northwest” and “Rear Window.” “It’s a funny, funny, Monty Python take on Hitchcock’s movie,” Desel said.

In addition to the four actors, the play depends on numerous light and sound cues and some video. Robert Osterhout is handling the lighting and Mike Pace the sound. Adam Trickey assisted with the video.

Antonia Osterhout is stage manager. Ben Frum did some special projects for the set. Ted de Chatelet helped with fight sequences.

Desel, who taught theater at Linfield College and Chemeketa Community College before retiring, has directed numerous shows at Gallery over the years. The roster includes “Wings,” “Proof,” “On Golden Pond,” “The Tempest,” “Man of La Mancha” and “The Fantasticks.”

He said he’s not known for madcap comedies like “The 39 Steps,” but he’s having fun with the play. “I think it’s a hoot,” he said.

Admid all the comedy, Desel said, a message can be found. He said that’s true of the new farcical version, of Hitchcock’s film and of the original book.

“Hannay has a speech about what kind of society do we want and what are we willing to do to have it,” he said. “That’s a really clear and powerful message in 1915 or 1935, and it also fits today.”

For reservations and more information, call the Gallery box office at 503-472-2227.

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