Theatre Mirror Reviews "The 39 Steps"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"


entire contents copyright 2012 by Tony Annicone

"The 39 Steps"

Reviewed by Tony Annicone

The New England Repertory Company's spring show at MMAS is "The 39 Steps". The show is a farce adapted from the 1915 novel by John Buchan and the 1935 film by Alfred Hitchcock. The play's concept calls for the entirety of the 1935 adventure film to be performed by a cast of only four. One actor plays the hero, Richard Hannay, an actress plays the three women with whom he has romantic entanglements, and the other two actors play every other character in the show: heroes, villains, men, women, children and even the occasional inanimate object. This often requires lightning fast quick changes and occasionally for them to play multiple characters at once. Thus the film's serious spy story is played mainly for laughs, and the script is full of allusions to and puns on the titles of other Alfred Hitchcock films, including Rear Window, Psycho, Vertigo and North by Northwest. This version mixes the Hitchcock masterpiece with a juicy spy novel, add a dash of Monty Python and you have "The 39 Steps", Broadway's longest running comedy. The show is a fast-paced, hilarious whodunit which features 150 zany characters portrayed by four actors in a plot packed with intrigue, international danger, old-fashioned romance, high-spirited comedy and a death-defying finale that has to be seen to be believed. Director Beth Goldman picks four topnotch performers to portray these madcap roles and infuses her show with some clever and hilarious shtick to keep the audience entertained and laughing all night long.

Since an audience might be unfamiliar with the show, I will give a brief synopsis of it. Urbane, bored Richard Hannay, is at a London theatre, attending a demonstration of the remarkable powers of "Mr. Memory", a man with a photographic memory. There is a plot to steal vital British military secrets, implemented by the head of an espionage organization called "The 39 Steps". The show follows the travails of Hannay and how he comes to solve this puzzling mystery. He makes eyes at a mysterious woman at the theater, returns with her to his London town home where the woman turns up dead. With no more than that, Richard is cast into a headlong run for his life as a mysterious spy organization alternately pursues and is pursued by him, from London to Scotland and back, as he fights to clear himself of the murder. Along the way, he is hindered and helped by the beautiful, upstanding Pamela, who despite her best efforts, ends up shackled, literally, to a man she thinks is a murderer. Meanwhile, the police and spy organization are closing in on Richard. This show is played for laughs and will keep you guessing and laughing all along the way. The second act is funnier than the first since you know the crazy characters better.

Playing the leading role of Richard is Brian Dunham. He handles his enormous amount of dialogue with ease and is topnotch. Brian is very dashing and debonair in this role, reminding the audience of a 1930's matinee idol. One of his bits is when he steps through a window in the back of the house, spoofing "Rear Window" with the funniest being a lecture he gives at an election rally. Three of the women are played splendidly by Maggie Nichols. She first plays Annabella Schmidt, the mysterious German woman who shoots off a gun at the theatre and ends up dead with a knife in her back. The knife scene is hilarious as Brian crawls out from under her dead stiff body. Her second role is as the British Pamela who gets him arrested on the train, then ends up shackled to him at a Scottish Inn. She is integral to the plot in this part. Maggie is a hoot as Margaret, the Scottish wife with pigtails as she cowers under the scrutiny of her blustering husband while helping Richard out. Maggie creates memorable characters and delivers many laughs along the way. The other two performers are Peter Fitzgerald and Bruce Church who play numerous roles and they are outstanding. They steal many scenes in this farce, changing sets and costumes at a split second. At one point they play different characters by changing hats. The finale of the show is breathtaking and marvelous to behold and must remain a secret so the audience can enjoy it. Kudos to Michael Duarte on a fabulous turntable set and to the fantastic stage crew for moving it around with lightning speed and precision. So for a fun filled farce, be sure to catch "The 39 Steps" at MMAS.

"The 39 Steps" (30 March - 15 April)
NEW ENGLAND REPERTORY COMPANY
@ MMAS Black Box Theater, 377 North Main Street, MANSFIELD MA
1(508)339-2822

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide

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