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The 39 Steps

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Though The 39 Steps is a melodramatic novel, first published 1915 and authored by John Buchan, it is probably best known as a 1935 film by that master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock. In the early 2000s, Patrick Barlow adapted the novel and screenplay to the live theater. This time, however, the early twentieth century novel and the Depression-era movie were transformed into a singular twenty-first century stage farce. After premiering in the United Kingdom in 2005 and then coming to the United States in 2007, it was recognized with an Olivier Award for Best Comedy.

Now, The 39 Steps has made its way to the Laguna Playhouse and, after seeing it, it’s difficult to imagine ever viewing the Hitchcock film without thinking about this farcical stage conceit and laughing out loud. Directed with exquisite timing by Kevin Bigger, a cast of four – in two acts and within about two-hours – play a hundred-plus characters.

The plot is convoluted and involves the lead character, Richard Hannay, attending a performance of Mr. Memory, showcasing a man with extraordinary powers of recall. During the demonstration a fight erupts and gunshots are heard. In the subsequent uproar, Hannay ends up consoling the panicked Annabella Schmidt. Annabella convinces Hannay to take her back to her living quarters where she reveals that she is an espionage agent being pursued by assassins committed to killing her.

With more intricate complications on the way, what makes this farce fun is that it never slows its pace to make sure the audience is keeping up with the storyline. In fact, soon it becomes apparent that the story is not the most important ingredient of this fast-moving farce. Rather, it is the performers’ dedication to straight-faced absurdity that makes the slapstick shenanigans the prime ingredient here. Farces can run the gamut from funny to fetid, all within the same play. Fortunately for So Cal theatergoers, The 39 Steps leans more toward the former than the latter.

With sterling stagecraft by scenic and costume designer Peter McKintosh, lighting designer Jeremy Rolla (recreating the original Broadway strobe effects of Kevin Adams), and sound maven Mic Pool, a quartet of players render such enjoyable and joyous performances that we in the audience are won over from the first step to the last.

As Richard Hannay, Dan Fenaughty is as physical a comedy performer as you’re likely to see on this or any other Southland stage. From his sleeping fits – filled with charmingly exaggerated tosses and turns – to his escape atop a “moving” train (see it to believe it) – Fenaughty delivers a fully farcical, yet somehow believable, characterization.

Playing not only the doomed Annabella, but also Pamela – an unsuspecting train-traveler, and Margaret – a farmer’s daughter – Larissa Klinger is a masterful comedienne with chameleon abilities. It also doesn’t hurt that Klinger exudes sex appeal.

Then duo Nicholas Wilder and Tobias Shaw excel in incarnating the 102 other characters on display. Their quick-change routines and physical escapades are in themselves worth the price of admission. Plus the pratfalls performed here seem to be injury-defying.

Though the idea for The 39 Steps comes from an earlier novel, it is the auteurship of Alfred Hitchcock which is paid tribute to in this version. Sly references to such Hitchcock classics as Strangers on a Train, North by Northwest, Vertigo, and, of course Psycho are easily made, making this family-friendly play all the more playful.

The 39 Steps, a Windwood Productions project, continues at the Laguna Playhouse – 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach – through October 21. Evening performances are at 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday (and at 7 p.m. on Sunday October 7). Matinees are at 2 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays (as well as on Thursday, at 2 p.m., October 11). For reservations, dial (949) 497 – 2787. For further information, visit



Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”


Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.