Melodrama takes viewers back to 1940s radio studio
RAUCOUS—Connor Pratt, Sandy Pratt and Lauren Rachel star in “The 39 Steps,” a melodrama that runs through Sunday at High Street Arts Center in Moorpark. Courtesy of Barbara Mazeika “The 39 Steps” began its climb into the public consciousness as a 1915 adventure novel by John Buchan. Its popularity stepped up considerably when Alfred Hitchcock turned the book into a hit 1935 film starring British actors Robert Donat and Madeleine Carroll.
In 2008, writer Joe Landry took “The 39 Steps” and turned it into a one-act performed in the style of an old-time radio melodrama.
Moorpark Melodrama is presenting “The 39 Steps” through Nov. 13 at the High Street Arts Center. Watching it is like being inside a radio studio in the 1940s as a troupe of actors bring the tale to life, complete with live sound effects and musical underscoring.
The radio announcer, played with unctuous distinction by Chris Carnicelli, welcomes the audience and tells them when to applaud, as the studio’s “applause” signs are not functioning.
The story deals with a familiar Hitchcock device: an ordinary man caught up in extraordinary circumstances. Richard Hannay is a Canadian visiting London who witnesses a murder but is himself mistaken for the assailant. He goes on the run, chasing the real murderer while trying to stay ahead of the police, meeting an attractive blonde along the way.
The fun of the play is not in the story as much as the mechanics of the radio broadcast. Connor Pratt leads the cast of five as Hannay, and is excellent as the rakish, charismatic hero. The other four actors juggle a dizzying number of parts, with the bulk of the heavy lifting executed by Andy Brasted and Dale Alpert, who showcase expertise in voicing the various British, cockney and Scottish accents belonging to the sundry characters Hannay encounters on his journey.
Lauren Rachel plays Pamela, the girl who gets handcuffed to Hannay, using the voice of a ditzy Bronx showgirl, certainly not a type you would expect to see in this setting. Pamela is consequently obliged to accompany Hannay as they evade their pursuers. Sandy Pratt rounds out the ensemble as Annabella Smith, the mystery woman whose murder triggers Hannay’s involvement.