Four actors and over 100 roles
When I write that down I don’t quite feel it truly conveys what you will see when you watch The 39 Steps at the Long Beach Playhouse, playing now through October 25.
The 39 Steps, written by Patrick Barlow and John Buchan (from his 1915 novel), is based off of the 1935 Alfred Hitchcock movie of the same name. The book is a spy story. The movie is a spy story. The play? Well, the play is a spy story like none I have ever seen before. This adaptation turns the story into a sort of melodrama where four actors, three men and one woman, portray every role in a cross-country tale of foreign intrigue, pre-WWII air defense secrets and Nazi’s. Sometimes the agile actors are playing 2 or 3 characters IN ONE SCENE (!), with only a simple costume piece and an accent to tell them apart. When you factor in the multiple locations like England, Scotland, the bottom of a large bridge, and the side of a train (you’ll get it when you see it) you can en vision how this show is basically a lovely and enjoyable mess of a production that will leave you with a smile on your face.
The four actors do a great job of carrying this story along. I thought it was interesting that it was all of their first time appearing on the Long Beach Playhouse stage. They are a welcome addition to the talent that has graced our local stage. Whether the thrill of a new venue and audience or because of the Tony winning script, these actors all looked like they were having a blast bringing the audience along for the ride.
Jeremy Bear portrays our on-the-run hero, Richard Hanney. You would think he has the easiest job, only having to play one role over the course of the show, but he had to keep a straight face while being in the middle of a tornado of comedic action.
Playing most of the female roles is Madeleine Heil who looked great whether she was a Scottish maid searching for more or a dramatic German spy. Her comedic timing was spot on. Hands down my favorite portrayal for her was the German spy who introduces us to “The 39 Schteps”.
Filling out all of the other roles were Mark Davidson and Michael Chiboucas. Their characters are titled Clown 1 and Clown 2 and they definitely get a ton of laughs. These two, playing off each other brilliantly, worked their asses off as they became a myriad of characters. The fun these two were having was as contagious as the clap after Folsom. You’ll be amazed by the train scene, as the two popped in and out of a train car and at least six characters.
The unsung performer of the show was the sound guy. Sound effects play a crucial role in the show and whoever is manning the sound booth should be commended. He had to be “on” at all times since a sound effect seemed to be happening every second. The show would definitely not go on without him.
The show was funny and fun. Directing this production could not have been easy and Director Dales Jones must have had to rack his brain on how to accomplish some of the scenes in a small space on a thrust stage. Having never seen a production of The 39 Steps I don’t have anything to compare it to but my only criticism were some of the scene transitions. I can only imagine on a Broadway stage, with a bigger budget, some of the scene changes must have been lightening fast to keep the breakneck pace up. Here on a smaller stage some of the scene changes took a bit too long dragging down the pace in some parts.
Even with that, I think The 39 Steps was my favorite show I have seen at Long Beach Playhouse to date. The way the story unfolds is something you don’t see very often with four actors playing so many roles. The comedy was genuine; I’m not a huge comedy fan and found myself laughing quite a bit. The actors looked like they truly loved being on stage, which is half the battle when you are trying to connect with an audience; nothing kills a show like uninspired actors. So all in in all I would recommend anyone looking for a good night of entertainment to take trip down The 39 Steps.
The 39 Steps playing now through October 25th, 2014 at the Long Beach Playhouse. For more information visit http://www.lbplayhouse.org/show/39-steps/ .