If Mel Brooks adapted The 39 Steps to the screen instead of Alfred Hitchcock, it might look a lot like the broadly comic version of the classic British "shocker" currently onstage at Circuit Playhouse. Although the script is true to the source material, the farce arises from four actors, including the versatile Michael Gravois as Richard Hannay.
Flyer: You're usually the shape-shifter called upon to play multiple roles inside a single production. This time you're just one character while everybody else takes on dozens: jealousy or relief?
Michael Gravois: Relief! My bag of tricks was getting threadbare. Actually, since Playhouse is doing Tuna Does Vegas next season, I knew I'd be shape-shifting again, so I told Kevin Shaw, the director, that I was interested in playing Richard Hannay.
You saw the show in London when it was still fairly new. Was it something you knew you'd eventually do?
Yes. I saw the show in London, knowing that it was going to be the hot property when it was released and that I would probably be involved in it. As soon as I got back to the U.S., I called Jackie Nichols [at Playhouse on the Square] and told him I was interested.
Hitchcock's got a great sense of humor, but the comedy in this really has been punched up. Can you tell us a little about the balancing act between hilarity and action?
The original movie of The 39 Steps is a simple mystery about a man who is bored with his life and wants adventure. He gets it when a mysterious woman is murdered in his apartment and he finds himself on the run from police who think he did it and foreign agents. There's little comedy in the movie. However, when the same story is told with four actors playing all the characters in the movie, the result is very funny, especially when the actors pump up the accents and personality quirks of the characters. Also, the story zigzags across Great Britain — from a high-speed chase across the roofs of train cars to an enormous mansion with many rooms. All of this is imaginatively created onstage.
"The 39 Steps," at Circuit Playhouse through June 5th.