Sunday, June 27, 2010

Inspiration and Theft

Spending the weekend in New York City to record an episode of Stray Dogs, I went and saw a matinée performance of The 39 Steps. Based on an early Alfred Hitchcock film, this show re-imagines the story as a sort of high-concept comedy, with four actors taking on the roles. Actually, it's one actor in one part, a woman playing three characters, and two other men (listed as just Man #1 and Man #1 in the program) playing countless other people, male and female, throughout the play. I knew it was a comedy. I knew it was Hitchcock. But I didn't know I would laugh as hard as I did.

The very first sequence of the play hits the theme of the show perfectly, as we get a straight-faced performance of a side-splitting monologue, as the intrigue/adventure plot is off and running. In addition to wordplay and clever references to other Hitchcock films, the play is solidly rooted in physical comedy. All four actors use their bodies fantastically, both to create character as well as find humor. There is a sequence where the leading man climbs out of a train car, then across the roof, and then climbs down a bridge. The whole sequence was beautifully rendered on stage, as well as being hilarious.

Since I am in the process of writing comedic scripts based on film noir detectives, The 39 Steps was a great bit of inspiration for me to write some more comedy detective stories. The show also did a great job of blending the comedy with the actual mystery, and that's a lesson that I want to be sure I take into the Boson Higgs episodes. Comedy and plot don't have to be exclusive of each other. I might also steal a few of the jokes from the show. They say the sincerest form of flattery is imitation, and I really enjoyed the show. I recommend it highly, and it made me start itching to sit down and write again.

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