Walk into humor with ‘The 39 Steps’
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Left in less capable hands than executive director Josh Blanchard’s, “The 39 Steps” could’ve turned into an obnoxious series of stunts and loud sounds. But Blanchard has taken a task of gigantic proportions and successfully squeezed it into the small box called the Lake Dillon Theatre.
“The 39 Steps” is a farce based on Alfred Hitchcock’s 1935 film of the same name. (And, as Hitchcock fans know, the master thriller had a wit and humor of his own, so it’s no stretch to think he would’ve chuckled right along with the audience if he were to see this reinvention, based on many of his great lines.) The theatrical version first hit the stage in 2005 in England and made its U.S. debut in 2007, eventually setting a record as the longest-running comedy in Broadway. The rights recently became available, and as a result, it’s currently one of the most produced plays nationwide, Blanchard said.
“It’s an audience pleaser, it’s family appropriate, and it’s a farce,” Blanchard said.
The opening scene portrays Richard Hannay (Brett Figel), an Englishman “tired of the world and life” who decides to pull himself together by going to the theater. There, he witnesses the amazing powers of Mr. Memory, and the Monty-Python-esque humor begins.
The next morning, before he even knows what hit him, Richard must crawl out from under a dead woman in his flat. He explains the murder scene to the milkman, as only a milkman would understand, then begins a journey that involves outrunning police and international spies, because as the former living, mysterious woman warned him in her heavy foreign accent: “Now you are ‘inwallved.'”
Richard’s mission: To expose the spies, in order to clear his name. Needless to say, a lot of bumbling and role changes take place, with only four actors portraying more than 150 characters. (Figel only depicts Richard, and Kevin Alan, Andy McCain and Jennifer McVey pull off the rest of the characters stupendously.)
“It’s one of the more ambitious things we’ve produced,” Blanchard said. “The overall scope of the play is really big, with the number of locations, characters and physical (comedy) … it was a fun challenge condensing it into our small space.”
Blanchard drew three of the actors from auditions held in New York City last fall. McCain, from Wisconsin, had performed with Lake Dillon Theatre years ago and submitted a video audition. Their spinning, blundering, hat-changing character transformations are quite impressive to watch.
Though audiences who’ve seen Hitchcock’s original “39 Steps” will probably appreciate the humor more, prior Hitchcock experience isn’t necessary.
“I wasn’t familiar with it before I read the script, and I found it funny,” Blanchard said. “Then I saw the film and found the script even more funny.”
The play runs tonight through Feb. 20, so you have time to rent the 1935 film and then grab a seat at the theater. Tickets are $25 for adults and $20 for students, available at http://lakedillontheatre.org or by calling (970) 513-9386.
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