Person, place, or thing? What are THE 39 STEPS? This wonderfully frenzied caper springs from the 1915 novel by John Buchan, and is also derived from the 1935 movie by Alfred Hitchcock, which is now also adapted by Patrick Barlow for the stage.
The romance / mystery / murder comedy features over 150 characters played by a company of 4 actors. The main unchanging role is that of Richard Hannay (played by Anthony Michael Martinez), a bored and tired 37-year-old Englishman looking for something to do in life. Once he leaves his home to find entertainment, actors Betsy Mugavero, Maggie Kettering, and Joe Wegner swoop in with their portrayals of dozens of men, women, and objects to begin the epic adventure.
When a performance he’s watching is interrupted by a gunshot, Hannay finds himself leaving the theatre with a mysterious woman, who ends up dead! But not before she reveals that she has to get to Scotland with some very important information about THE 39 STEPS. The chase is on as Hannay comes under suspicion for her death, and he goes on the run to find the far-away Alt-na-shellach. All this is happening while he’s avoiding both the authorities and a dangerous man with a partially missing pinky finger.
With obvious nods throughout to other Hitchcock works like Rear Window, The Birds, Strangers on a Train, Psycho, Vertigo, and North by Northwest, the production is not just a whodunit, but a what-is-it wrapped in a shroud of puns, illusions, and spy gags. The evil laughs are well placed, and the shtick is as campy as a Monty Python sketch on its 12th cup of coffee.
The staging by director Jaclyn Miller is quick-paced and fluidly carried out by the well-oiled-machine of the ensemble. The action is non-stop, and the activity is always interesting. In particular, the lighting-fast costume changes (particularly hats) is astonishingly smooth, making the character transitions sometimes a surprise (and a delight). And then the characters start to speak in all of the different accents – it’s a plethora of people.
The set is in constant motion. Due to the mobile nature of the pieces on stage, Miller has given the actors ample opportunity to entertain and travel via the clockwork precision of moving scaffolding, window frames, doorways, and more. There’s also a lively use of shadow puppets, which is dramatically amusing.
Well done to the designers for successfully creating a zany world of mayhem: Courtney O’Neill (Scenic Design), Esther M. Haberlen (Costume Design), Heather Gilbert (Lighting Design), and Matthew Webb (Sound Design/Composer).
Bottom line – THE 39 STEPS is a mystery worth solving. Begin your journey to piecing together this puzzle by buying tickets to the show, which is presented by Great Lakes Theater at the Hannah Theatre now through May 22, 2022. Tickets and information are available at www.greatlakestheater.org.