"The 39 Steps" proves that ingenuity, a good foreign accent and exaggerated body language can enthrall an audience so much that they forget only four people are playing the tens of characters.
The play runs through Oct. 21 at the Laguna Playhouse.
Based on Alfred Hitchcock's 1935 film, which set the stage for the film noir genre, the play blends Hitchcock's spy thriller plot with the comedic elements that come with a tiny cast and simple set elements, like suitcases and a leather chair.
"The joy of it is trying to translate all of what Hitchcock did in his movie and use theatrics to bring it to the stage," director Kevin Bigger said. "Slapstick comedy comes in with these people trying as hard as they can to do the impossible task, which is staging an entire movie."
"The 39 Steps" has won two Tonys and was nominated for four. It ran on Broadway from 2008 to 2010, which Playbill reported was the longest running Broadway play in seven years.
Bigger joined the play as assistant director when it opened in Boston in 2007. He was the assistant director as it played on Broadway and directed its National Tour.
The plot goes as so: Richard Hannay, played by Dan Fenaughty, just moved back home to London and, out of boredom, decides to attend the theater.
During the "Mr. Memory" show, where a man is quizzed on facts by audience members, an Eastern European woman fires a shot in the theater. She comes home with Hannay, where he finds her dead the next morning. She had divulged that she had discovered an organization called the 39 Steps is collecting British military secrets and was followed by assassins.
The prime suspect in her murder, Hannay goes on the run to track down her killer and the 39 Steps — not only to clear his name, but to save his homeland.
Artistic Director Ann Wareham first saw the production in London and was drawn to the slapstick humor that comes from the quick set and costume changes — a slip-up, like the wrong cap or a woman in men's socks, pointed out in jest.
"Timing has to be perfection," Wareham said. "It's like a ballet. They can't miss a beat."
While Hannay stays in character the entire plot, the woman, actress Larissa Klinger, plays all the female leads and clowns No. 1 and No. 2, Tobias Shaw and Nicholas Wilder, play everything from underwear salesmen, detectives and Scottish innkeepers to bogs, bushes and trees.
Although the props are sparse, the audience never notices. The characters wobble as they chat on the train, shake their costumes with the wind and tobacco fills the room as a cigarette-toting professor yammers on.
"The great thing about the show too is that it's really fun for all ages, all walks of life," Bigger said.
Just like Hitchcock made appearances in his own films, audience goers can look out for a peep of the suspense mastermind. The cast also makes references to his other films throughout the film, such as "Psycho" and "Vertigo."
"The reason so many of us have been working on it for a very long time is because we have so much fun every time we do it," Bigger said.
For more information, call (800) 946-5556 or (949) 497-2787 ext. 1.