AISLE SAY San Francisco


Adapted by Patrick Barlow
from the novel by John Buchan & film by Alfred Hitchcock
Directed by Hunt Burdick
Presented by Hillbarn Theatre
1285 E. Hillsdale Blvd., Foster City, CA / (650) 349-6411

Reviewed by Judy Richter

A bored Canadian's decision to go to the theater during a visit to London in 1935 sets off a wild chase that unfolds in "The 39 Steps" at Hillbarn Theatre.

Patrick Barlow adapted this comedy from the film by Alfred Hitchcock and a novel by John Buchan.

This minimalist production uses only four actors. Brad Satterwhite plays the debonair hero, Richard Hannay, while Elspeth Noble plays three female characters. The dozens of other characters are played by Ross Neuenfeldt and Russell Ward, called Clowns 1 and 2.

As Richard watches the show from a box, a mysterious woman joins him before shots ring out. They flee to his flat, where she tells him that a spy plot threatens the country. She gives him some basic details before being stabbed.

Suspected of her murder and eager to save the country, Richard heads for the master spy's home in Scotland. Along the way he barely eludes an assortment of police and acquires an unwitting travel companion and eventual love interest, Pamela (Noble).

Directed by Hunt Burdick, this production has numerous hilarious moments. Many of them come from quick character changes -- some with only a switch of hats -- by the Clowns, aided by costumer Mae Heagerty-Matos.

Steve Nyberg's set (lit by Matthew Johns) uses few stage pieces, many on wheels, to facilitate scene changes. On the other hand, the sound design by Alan Chang sometimes covers dialogue. This is especially problematic with the Clowns when the action moves to Scotland, where the thick accents are already hard to understand.

Overall, though, it's a fun show. Satterwhite and Noble are standouts in the cast.

Hillbarn patrons will be pleased to know that construction has begun to expand the restrooms and upgrade the offices and lobby. Dan Demers, executive artistic director, said in his pre-curtain speech that this work is expected to be completed in about two weeks. That would be well before the next show, "White Christmas," begins Dec. 4.

In the meantime, Hillbarn has set up five portable toilets plus washing stations and canopies in the courtyard. Patrons may enter the facility from the back parking lot.

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