Full disclosure. I love Alfred Hitchcock. Especially his early work. Something about the juxtaposition of classic movie era acting, costuming and storytelling with his dark, twisted themes is always fun to watch.

So, it is with great happiness that I can report that CLOTA's latest fundraiser “The 39 Steps” delivered the classic Hitchcock tone in full measure.

Director Brianne Hardwick may have taken a risk with this one; the cast rehearsed only three weeks prior to production. Adding to the potential difficulty, leading man Ben Bockhahn was unable to perform Saturday night.

Fortunately the show was great anyway. I am a fan of Bockhahn, but Richard MacNeill did such a good job in the leading role of Richard Hannay that it was hard to believe he stepped in at the last minute. Of course it didn't hurt that the entire cast was so strong. Hardwick did double duty, in addition to directing she played leading lady Pamela Stuart with aplomb.

Calvin Johnson was excellent in the key role of Mr. Memory as well as narrator Cecil DeMille, and Heather Boster was sympathetic as the luckless Anabella Smith. Nate Clair was especially hilarious as the narrator. Worthy of special mention were Nicole and Sam Johnson and Leah Lewkowicz in multiple roles. These are talented and versatile performers. The play was set in Great Britain and they all pulled off a variety of British and Scottish accents perfectly. This added greatly to the realism and the enjoyability of the play.

And, yes, the bird was back.

“The 39 Steps” was staged as a “radio production” on station “KLOTA.” The actors were costumed in classic 1940s garb, reading into microphones. Character shifts were indicated with a variety of hat changes. Larry Lier and Audrey Hardwick did sound effects. Justin Olson was the sound engineer and Angie Pritchard did the lights. All of this worked charmingly. I was particularly taken with all the hats. Lewkowicz told me during the intermission that the cast had great fun rummaging through CLOTA's gigantic costume storehouse to find the right ones.

As for the play itself, it was surprisingly lighthearted given themes of murder, espionage and international intrigue. Hitchcockian touches abounded. Leading man Hannay continues to quip wittily even while on the run because of a murder he didn't commit, and the leading man and lady spend a good part of the play handcuffed together.

It all ends well of course (except for Anabella, who was murdered in the first scene). The resolution is clever and unexpected yet makes narrative sense.

Am I the only one who thinks they don't write plays/radio plays/movies like they used to? In any case, this was a good one.

One more thing: as I was walking in, Lier jokingly gave me a hard time about seeing the play on closing night. Well, it only ran two nights, so there was not that much choice.

But I said I would mention CLOTA's next production, so goes:

CLOTA is holding auditions for “The Secret Garden” directed by Barbara Roberts on May 5 at 6 p.m., and on May 6 at 1 p.m. There are parts for one girl, one boy, and 10 men and 10 women – mostly singing roles. This is, of course, based on the classic novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Book and lyrics are by Marsha Norman and music is by Lucy Simpson. See the CLOTA Facebook page for more details.

So, this leaves us with the most important question. When is CLOTA going to stage a production of “Rope?”

— Jessica Weston is city editor at the Daily Independent. Contact her at jweston@ridgecrestca.com


The views expressed are those of the columnist and do not necessarily represent the official stance of the Daily Independent.