Miami theater this week: Hitchcock, Streetcar, and vibrators

The 39 Steps

By Patrick Barlow, adapted from the film by Alfred Hitchcock. Through June 5 at Actors' Playhouse, 280 Miracle Mile, Coral Gables; 305-444-9293; Tickets cost $40 to $48.

Hitchcock's classic thriller has been adapted for the stage, and it's a mostly enjoyable mishmash of comedic shtick, kinetic energy, and inventive stagecraft that features a talented four-member cast playing 150 characters. Richard Hannay (Michael Frederic) meets a mysterious, beautiful woman with a thick German accent (Deanna Gibson). The woman begs Richard to take her home. She soon reveals she's being followed by two shady characters in dark trench coats and fedoras. Hannay reluctantly allows her to stay the night. The next morning, he finds her dead with a knife in her back and a map clutched in her hand. And so begins Hannay's harrowing trek to clear his name and uncover a massive conspiracy set in motion by the German woman's furtive words: "The 39 steps..." The rest of the play is a wholly original comedy/spy thriller with shadowy villains, Nazi baddies, colorful characters, speeding trains, double-crosses, and hit-and-miss comedy.

A Streetcar Named Desire

By Tennessee Williams. Through June 12 at New Theatre, 4120 Laguna St., Coral Gables; 305-443-5909; Tickets cost $35 to $40.

Directed by Ricky J. Martinez, New Theatre stages Tennessee Williams's modern classic about the sexually charged enmity between Stanley Kowalski and his sister-in-law, fading beauty Blanche DuBois. Blanche moves in with sister Stella and her brutish husband in their working-class New Orleans home and begins to unravel as Stanley digs up her past while breaking down her Southern belle pretensions. Soon all of Blanche's secrets —from a forbidden marriage to a tragic love affair with a younger man —are brought to the surface, even as she puts on the air of a trouble-free spirit. Stanley and Blanche are destined for a showdown where the strong devours the weak, with Stella caught in the middle while she overlooks Stanley's terrible flaws because of her insatiable lust for her husband. Filled with primal sexual tension, tragic turns, and layered symbolism, A Streetcar Named Desire is a landmark all-time classic.

In the Next Room (or the Vibrator Play)

By Sarah Ruhl. Through June 12 at GableStage at the Biltmore, 1200 Anastasia Ave., Coral Gables; 305-445-1119; Tickets cost $37.50 to $47.50.

Set in the 1880s, In the Next Room (or the Vibrator Play) is the new comedy by Pulitzer Prize-nominated playwright Sarah Ruhl. The story takes place during the advent of electricity, when Doctor Givings treats female patients for their supposed hysteria with a new, electric-powered contraption. But the device unexpectedly produces different results. Soon the doctor receives a new patient, Mrs. Daldry. Although sexually frustrated and stuck in a marriage where she endures her husband's clunky, missionary-position-only lovemaking, she too is diagnosed with "hysteria" and is brought to the good doctor's parlor for therapy sessions. At its heart, this smart and stimulating comedy explores the mistreatment of women in the late 19th Century (the vibrator therapy sessions are based on documented cases) and how men of the era subjugated women to their uninformed and dubious methods while ignoring the obvious. Insightful and witty, In the Next Room is an engaging exploration of men' cluelessness and women's sexual liberation.