Hindi Greenberg: ‘The 39 Steps’ is a fun and quirky romp
A melodrama combining Hitchcockian suspense and intrigue, Keystone Cops slapstick and Pythonesque comedy, “The 39 Steps” is Quest Theaterworks’ latest entry in its eccentric multitude of plays.
You will laugh, gasp and guffaw at the physical humor combined with the plot contrivances, all mashed together with the split-second timing of four actors playing approximately 150 different characters, some almost concurrently.
“Hold onto your hat” takes on a new meaning during this whirlwind tour de force.
Written by Patrick Barlow and based on the 1915 novel by John Buchan and the 1935 movie by Alfred Hitchcock, “The 39 Steps” opened in London in 2005 and was the fifth longest running play in West End history.
It opened in the U.S. in 2007 and had a long run on Broadway, garnering four Tony nominations, including one for best play.
If you’ve seen the Hitchcock movie, note that this stage production is a much more comic treatment, with the frenzied changes of characters, costumes and, especially, hats by two of the four characters.
The actor who plays the hero is the only one who doesn’t change roles, while the other three actors play an assortment of lovers, villains, cops, spies and men and women without regard to the actor’s actual gender.
The hero, Richard Hannay, played by John Gardiner with a wonderfully bemused expression and a “handsome pencil thin mustache,” laments his boring life until he is suddenly accused of murder and thrust into a chase across 1935-ish England and Scotland to try to stop a plot to smuggle information out of the UK.
Alexis Gross fully inhabits each of her three female characters in whom Hannay has a possible romantic interest.
Chase Coney and Tinley Ireland play the clowns — these two frenetically portray the other 146 characters, racing from one scenario to the next with aplomb.
Coney and Ireland often have the best lines and comic characters and both seem to relish the absurdity and hilarity of their depictions.
It comes as no surprise that Danny McCammon is the director. Anyone who has followed his exceptional acting, stand-up comedy and improv career can see his fingerprints all over this play.
He has imbued his actors with his expertise in both movement and timing, both integral to the success of this madcap comedy, which is his main stage directorial debut. McCammon also designed the very basic but functional set and the effective lighting.
Jodi O’Dell’s sound design worked well in the confines of the Off Center Stage. And Lois Ewing and Sandi Hedenland’s costumes were extremely user-friendly, and often humorous, for the quick changes by the actors.
This is a spy play that doesn’t take itself seriously. It is an amalgam of numerous interconnecting vignettes, many funny, some silly, most over-the-top, all clever.
If you enjoy humor, slapstick done well, a bit of intrigue and actors having fun while making themselves breathless, then you will definitely want to see “The 39 Steps,” playing at the Off Center Stage through Nov. 19.
Hindi Greenberg was in awe of the many changes of props, costumes and hats. Kudos to the backstage crew for keeping those all in order.
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