I'm not telling you. You'll have to see for yourself at the Actor's Co-Op's staging of "The 39 Steps," a London and Broadway comedy hit from 2008, still performed all over the world. Patrick Barlow, the show's writer, mashes up dialogue, plot and themes from Hitchcock movies of the 1930s ("39 Steps," "North By Northwest," "Strangers on a Train," "Rear Window," "Psycho" and "Vertigo") with more than just a dash of manic Monty Python. That's the fun, and also the limitation, of the show; if you're not a rabid fan of those movies and bizarre British humor, you might not fully enjoy the multi-textured tomfoolery going on right in front of your eyes.
But if you are grounded in silly walks and melodramatic misdirection, you'll be mesmerized by the clever staging and clowning performed by a cast of 4 (only 4!) talented actors. And actresses. And actresses playing actors. And actors playing actresses. And actors and actresses playing animals.
The show is one big chase scene, with the plot taking a back seat to the quick-change tomfoolery. (I still don't understand what the "39 Steps" are.)
Director Kevin Chesley, working with Actors Co-op's little black box theater, puts the action in your lap -- sometimes literally. He gets comic mileage out of the cast's double, triple, and quadruple-duty as stage hands, prop holders, props and background characters.
Kevin Shewey plays the hapless hero, Richard Hannay, a proper English bachelor. As the only actor who stays put in one character, he grounds the show is his believable portrayal of a man with perfect British manners -- and escalating anxiety.
Lauren Thompson plays a number of femme fatales, the conniving, innocent, showy, or demure women that our hero comes across in his quest to clear his name. Throughout the how, Ms. Thompson seduces us, repulses us and cracks us up.
All the other characters (and there are too many to count) are played by an actor and actress billed simply as "Clowns."
Townsend Coleman and Carly Lopez
Townsend Coleman, of the male gender, is Clown 1. Mr. Coleman plays a few male parts plus all of the female secondary characters. He is a seasoned middle-aged performer; when he puts on a shawl and plays a woman, the incongruity between gravitas and gams is hysterical. (I told you Monty Python was an influence here.) Carly Lopez, of the female gender, is Clown 2. Ms. Lopez is a pixie, short of stature, who plays only male secondary characters. She steals the show with her parodies of intellectual professors, concerned lawmen and a lusty, doddering old Scottish innkeeper, among others.
Actors Co-Op is the resident theatre company of the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood. As befits such a well-run, well-financed organization, every "below the line" is first rate. Stephen Gifford's scenic design is "veddy British," clubby and organized. Andrew Schmedake's lighting, Warren Davis' sound and Lori Berg's prop design are all beautifully engineered to both support the story and add a few surprises of their own. Vicki Conrad, who crafted the costumes, hair and makeup, has managed to dress each character -- no matter how long or short their stage time, with comic flair.
Last but not least, I must give the stage crew a hand. Manager Derek R. Copenhaver and assistant Thien Nguyen keep this tightly paced, tightly-packed show fast-moving and funny. No doubt they need everyone to "Watch your step!"
"The 39 Steps" plays through Oct 29 at Actor's Co-op