Thank goodness the small and charming 39 Steps is now playing at the small and charming Helen Hayes Theatre. The first time I saw it at the American Airlines Theatre, I felt like I was just seeing it in the wrong theater. That’s decidedly the case with this very physical British comic import. Based on John Buchan’s spicy 1915 spy novel and Hitchcock’s classic 1935 film version, it’s meant to be a gag, a giggle, a giddy good time. Its small-scale charms are easily found at the Helen Hayes.
This version of “Steps” is a likable beast, in many ways quite admirable. All the many characters from the film are portrayed by only four actors, who also create all of the film’s settings and effects with great virtuosity and astonishingly minimal means. My recommendation: Get seats as close as you can, and have a cocktail or two beforehand. Enforced intimacy and a couple cups of kindness may allow you to enjoy this sweet, fleet-footed thing the way its creators intended.