By Meryl Gottlieb| email@example.com| @buzzlightmeryl
The 39 Steps directed by Dennis Delaney
8 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday; 2 p.m. Saturday; 8 p.m. Feb. 25-27
Elizabeth Evans Baker Theater, Kantner Hall
Alfred Hitchcock is known as the master of suspense. He directed more than 50 films in six decades and is simply one of the most well known directors of Hollywood’s golden age.
But when you see the Division of Theater’s production of The 39 Steps, it isn’t like Hitchcock’s film. In fact, it is a farce of his work. There is still the mystery at its heart but the focus is on the comedy.
The 39 Steps follows Richard Hannay — played by Abraham Adams — a man who lives a very boring life until he meets a woman who is a spy. Hannay is then accused of murdering the woman and goes on the run to figure out the secret of “The 39 Steps.”
The show has dozens of characters but only a cast of four actors. Adams is the only one who plays the same role throughout the play, and he is certainly at home in the character. Alycia Kunkle plays all three female roles and exceeds more so in certain scenes than others but that’s more to the fault of the fact that women aren’t exactly as well developed characters in older films. Greg Atkin and Andy Danford then play everyone else, literally. They are called the “clowns” and play between 20 to 30 roles each.
These two actors are the source for the majority of the comedy in the play; they are a great comedic duo. Atkin dresses in drag to play several women, and it always lends itself to big laughs. Atkin’s great sense of comedic timing is often highlighted and is a great actor to follow throughout the play. Danford is a master of the outlandish characters with big personalities. “#BestActorEver,” yes, they even incorporate today’s latest Twitter trends into the 1930s set play.
It’s important to remember the play is an adaptation by Patrick Barlow of the Hitchcock film, which is based off the book by John Buchan. Many times throughout the play, it felt like a film. There are some 30 scenes that all zip by, a feat that is much easier to tackle and more natural in a film than a play. It often felt more like a play trying to be a film than a solid adaptation for the stage.
The play is also essentially a cut-and-paste version of the film, which is featured in its entirety on YouTube. The only main difference is, obviously, the nature of each media: the film, a dramatic thriller, treats the mystery as serious while the play, a comedy, pokes fun at the situation.
The show is quite minimalist, which is exemplified best in its costumes and scenery. Three trunks can represent the train cars while a simple switch of a hat transforms an actor from a salesman to a paperboy. Much of the play is left up to the audience’s imagination.
Oftentimes, the minimalist nature is the source for the play’s comedy. It is simply the “magic” of live theater that is the only explanation for how this works. These techniques would never work in any other medium than theater.
Throughout the show, there were certain moments in which I couldn’t tell if the people attending media night were laughing because of a calculated decision for a sound cue or because it was a mistake they hadn’t anticipated. Media night does not count as an official show and some kinks are still being worked out, but a few sound and lighting cues were missed and distracted from the show. Due to the play’s farcical nature, I couldn’t tell if they were actual mess-ups or a comedic tool that broke the fourth wall but didn’t translate well. It didn’t happen a lot, but when it did, it was distracting. Even with the mistakes, the actors kept running and tied them into the show. Thus, their great sense for going with the flow is what caused my confusion about whether or not certain aspects were mistakes or not.
Overall, I enjoyed the play. I was continually laughing and was entertained for the two and a half hour show — includes intermission. I would definitely recommend seeing it if not only for the Rear Window joke which had me on the floor.