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"39 Steps" Returns to New York, at the Union Square Theatre
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"39 Steps" Returns to New York, at the Union Square Theatre

- Backstage with the Playwrights

Douglas Denoff
Bruce Robert Harris and Jack W. Batman, Mark Leonard
et al.

39 Steps
(39 Steps Website)
Adapted by Patrick Barlow
Based on the original concept of Simon Corble and Nobby Dimon
Based on the book by John Buchan

Directed by Maria Aitkin

At the
Union Square Theatre
Liberty Theatres LLC

Arnie Burton, Billy Carter, Robert Petkoff, Brittany Vicars

Set & Costume Design: Peter McKintosh
Lighting Design: Kevin Adams
Sound Design: Mic Pool
Original Movement: Toby Sedgewick
Movement Staging for US: Christopher Bayes
Dialect Coach: Stephen Gabis
Casting: Binder Casting/Jack Bowdan
Press Representative: O&M Co.
Marketing: Leanne Schanzer Promotions Inc.
Social Media: Marathon Live Productions
Digital Advertising: Amanda Bohan
Production Manager: Aurora Productions
Production Stage Manager: Rosy Garner
General Manager: Daniel Kuney/Roy Gabay Productions

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
April 21, 2015

Four of the best vaudevillian-styled actors, Billy Carter as Clown #1, Arnie Burton as Clown #2, Robert Petkoff as the lead character, Richard Hannay, and Brittany Vicars as Annabella Schmidt, Pamela, and Margaret, are presented in this revival of Simon Corble and Nobby Dimon’s 39 Steps. John Buchan wrote the original book, and Alfred Hitchcock wrote the screenplay of the story. Previous versions of the show (this was adapted by Patrick Barlow and directed by Maria Aitken) called the play “Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps” and so on. I suggest coming to this show, at the Union Square Theatre, before you have that evening glass of wine. You will need to be extraordinarily alert throughout this two-act play to follow the dozens of characters and scenes in which Mr. Carter and Mr. Burton cavort. You will also want to perk up your observation and listening, as clever allusions abound, in evocations of Hitchcock scenes (watch the shadow behind that shower curtain) and wisecracks.

The essential athleticism required of all four actors, with Mr. Petkoff handcuffed to Ms. Vicars, squirming about the bed of a rural inn, with Mr. Carter and Mr. Burton pretending to be a mountain or thorny brush, while Mr. Petkoff makes his wild, reckless escapes, and with the Clowns switching hats and wearing half-body costumes, going in and out of accents and gestures, is monumental. Kevin Adams’ lighting is intrinsic to the shadowy spookiness and a mock airplane attack, and Mic Pool’s sound design is quintessentially superb, as sound effects of one bit slightly overlap, seamlessly introducing the next bit. Peter McKintosh’s sets and costumes are more “thrift shop” than “found antique”, but that’s their charm and function. Clothes and furniture are tossed and shoved, on and offstage, in each transformation of plot and location. German, British, Scandinavian, and numerous other accents are heard, within this wild dramatic ride, thanks to dialect coach, Stephen Gabis, and, when there’s a rare mishap, the audience howls.

All four actors of this small cast are endearing, with Mr. Petkoff and Ms. Vicars’ characters so consistent, and with Mr. Burton and Mr. Carter hamming it up. The Petkoff-Vicars stage chemistry was thick, as was the clown chemistry of Burton–Carter, as hats and jackets and wigs and accents were swapped in split-timing. The core of the plot is an international scheme, involving crooks, who bring state secrets across borders, with codes, clues, and calamity. It’s all too complex to describe and would ruin the serendipity of the experience. I will note that you’ll leave the theater with a foam, red, clown-ball nose, so you may be inspired to try these campy antics at home. Kudos to all.

Robert Petkoff in "39 Steps"
Courtesy of Joan Marcus

Robert Petkoff, Arnie Burton, Billy Carter,
and Brittany Vicars in "39 Steps"
Courtesy of Joan Marcus

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at