Question: What do blackbirds, knives, showers, ropes, nosy neighbors, speeding trains and, of course, murder, have in common?
Answer: They are all dramatic devices that have been employed to great—and often terrifying—effect in the movies of Alfred Hitchcock.
There’s also a very good chance several of these objects will find their way onto the stage at the Southampton Cultural Center when the theatrical troupe Via Brooklyn offers “The 39 Steps” from July 13 to 30.
This is the second summer that members of this New York City-based theater company have performed at the cultural center. Last year, under the moniker Purpled Pheasant Productions, they presented “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged),” a crazed performance that visited all 37 of the Bard’s plays in just 90 minutes.
Ian Harkins was one of the actors in the Shakespeare piece and he will appear again this summer in “The 39 Steps,” along with Rafe Terrizzi, Hannah Tova Wolff and Cori Hundt.
Mr. Harkins noted that he and his fellow actors formed a troupe simply because they really enjoy working together, and though he is the only Brit among them, it turns out that Mr. Harkins’s father is from Long Island, which means he has been coming to the East End since he was young. The idea for presenting theater out here began two years ago when Mr. Harkins and Mr. Terrizzi approached the Southampton Cultural Center to propose offering the abridged Shakespeare play there.
“That piece began as a Fringe Festival show in the 1980s and we heavily adapted it,” said Mr. Harkins in a recent phone interview. “It’s an unusual script that allows for and encourages freedom of development.
“Based on the success of that last year, we decided to inflict ourselves on Southampton again,” he added.
This summer, however, it’s all about paying homage to Alfred Hitchcock—the Master of Suspense. Written by Patrick Barlow, the play “The 39 Steps” takes its name from Hitchcock’s 1935 film of the same name which, in turn, was loosely based on the 1915 novel by John Buchan. Hitchcock’s film came early in his directing career and it’s considered to be a masterpiece, noteworthy as the first “wrong man” thriller, in which an everyday man is unwittingly drawn into an international mystery.
“It was one of his first films that gained such acclaim,” Mr. Harkins explained. “Hitchcock had been at it for a while as a young man, but this was easily one of the big box office successes of the day.”
Though Hitchcock’s film is the jumping off point for the stage version of “The 39 Steps,” this play, which ran on Broadway from 2008 to 2010, includes plenty of references to his other well-known films as well.
“And we’re cheekily trying to get in more,” Mr. Harkins admitted. “We are still adhering of the plot of the film version of ‘The 39 Steps,’ which guides us in everything we do, but there’s definitely a ‘Rear Window’ joke in there.
“There’s also a knife that makes an appearance,” he said. “I’m giggling just thinking about it.”
This is also a production that bills itself as being filled with “shadow puppets, fog machines, projections, dubious accents, and swarthy mustaches.” For his part, Mr. Harkins admitted he wasn’t really aware of the play when he first went to see it in London years ago, but was immediately won over.
“I knew nothing about it, but it was so funny and I was delighted when it came to New York and made its Broadway debut,” he said. “Then it ran off-Broadway for ages and it continues to get awards.”
“It recently closed,” added Mr. Harkins. “I know a lot of family, friends and colleagues who didn’t get a chance to see it. This will give them another opportunity. If you saw the play years ago you’ll appreciate it, if you’re a fan of Hitchcock you’ll appreciate it, and if you like a summer romp you’ll appreciate it.”
But it will be no picnic for the actors, and the challenges in this production are many, given the fact that Mr. Harkins and his fellow cast members play no fewer than 50 characters over the course of the evening.
And that’s also what makes it so much fun.
“There is a lot of fast-paced comedy and costume changes. That makes the play acceptable to anyone, whether they are a Hitchcock fan or not,” Mr. Harkins explained. “In developing this, we’re adding in more costume additions and character additions. It’s getting to be quite a handful.
“God bless our costume designer,” he added. “I hate to think she’ll have a few more gray hairs because of us. But it’s all in the interest of serving the Southampton community and it’s good for all ages.”
In addition to offering theatrical productions, the members of Via Brooklyn also strive to present supporting events around their shows that tie into the theme.
The group will offer a fundraising “Murder Mystery Opening Night Party” on Saturday, July 15, at the cultural center immediately following the 7 p.m. performance of “The 39 Steps.” The cast and the crew will play host at the fundraiser, which will feature cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, and the untimely death of someone in the room. It will be the guests’ job to get involved and help solve the murder. Tickets to the fundraiser only are $45 ($73 includes a ticket to the play).
Via Brooklyn’s production of “The 39 Steps” is directed by Craig J. George. Performances are Thursday, July 13, to Sunday, July 30 at the Southampton Cultural Center. Shows are Thursday through Saturday and Monday at 7 p.m., except for the final weekend when shows are Thursday to Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $28, or $20 for students. To reserve or for more information, call 866-811-4111, or visitscc-arts.org or viabrooklyn.org. The Southampton Cultural Center is located at 25 Pond Lane, Southampton Village.
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