Look up, it's a spoof. No, it's a farce. No, it's a slapstick comedy. No, no, it's a whatchamacallit. The 39 Steps is a fast-paced mixed-genre comedy that does not require you ever to have seen the 1935 [Alfred Hitchcock] black-and-white film that inspired it. Too much of the film's narrative survives to make it a mere spoof. Festooned with in-jokes, it's too informed and too smart for mere slapstick. And while playwright- adaptor Patrick Barlow's Britishness suggests a nod to Monty Python, the whole thing feels more like an homage to the late American absurdist Charles Ludlam, best known in these parts for The Mystery of Irma Vep (Syracuse Stage, 1991). It's tickling all your senses all the time.If you've never seen the Hitchcock movie or read the John Buchan novel (1915) on which it is putatively based, the story will still feel familiar. It's a classic case of an innocent man (Hitchcock called him "the wrong man") on the run for a crime he did not commit, finding comedy, romance and danger along the way. Cinema historians will tell you Buchan invented this theme, which is why the play was known as John Buchan's 39 Steps in Britain. But most of the rest of us associate this plotting with Hitchcock and his many imitators. Hitchcock threw out most of the novel, with Buchan's approval, including the actual 39 Steps, and replaced them with his own obsessions. As Hitchcock scholarship is pretty widespread these days, many audiences are in on what fascinated him. Things like bondage (notably handcuffs), being stranded with nothing to say in front of strange crowds, and, especially, the persistence of cool, inaccessible blondes.
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