BWW Review: THE 39 STEPS Climbs To Comedic Heights At Fells Point Corner Theatre
Let's say you like farce. Let's say you like Hitchcock films. Let's say you want a posh production for a shoestring budget. Let's say you need a cast of thousands but only have four actors. Let's say it's a long shot.
But it might work. It could work. And THE 39 STEPS, now playing at Fells Point Corner Theatre, does work, very well.
THE 39 STEPS, presented jointly by FPCT and The Collaborative Theatre, is a tribute to and spoof of the works of the great Alfred Hitchcock, much in the line of SOMETHING'S AFOOT, recently at Vagabond Theatre. Comedy and Hitchcock being longtime favorites, attending the show was a given. Liking it...ah, well. But hope springs eternal and so forth, except about parking in Fells Point, which is always a challenge. We arrive early and find close, free parking. The calendar reads 'January', but the weather is March-ish, so we are up for a bit of walking
With an hour before the show to kill, we electronically discover Ze Mean Bean Cafe on Fleet Street, 4 blocks south of the theater. Muted lighting and formal service on a concrete floor are accompanied by a middle aged dude noodling on an amplified guitar. But the borscht! If you've no interest in borscht, I advise skipping to the next paragraph or so. Not to be Checkovian about it, but there is borscht and borscht. Borscht, of course, is a coarse puree of beet and other vegetables, topped with sour cream and accompanied by a thick roll of some sort. Borscht is coarsely chopped cabbage, beets, onions, carrots and perhaps other veg (in this case, mysteriously, dried mushrooms) in a thin beet broth, crowned by a dollop of sour cream supported by lightly toasted pumpernickel bread on the side. Now, while I generally like borscht better than borscht, this is hearty and tasty and the coffee is satisfyingly rich.
There is, sadly, no coat or umbrella rack immediately evident at FPCT, but the restroom is more accommodating than those of other theaters of similar size, and drinks are (to my astonishment) permitted in the theater.
In the theater, a red velour curtain and a proscenium topper adorned with an oval medallion hint at the elegant movie experience of the '30s and '40s. Two nattily dressed people make the expected "in case of emergency" "if you wish to donate" and "turn off your noisemakers" speeches, and the show begins.
The dialogue and tropes of the script are familiar, the character archetypes are deliciously broad and the costume changes are hilarious. The leads, Grayson Owen and Ann Turiano, are strong, engaging actors who have excellent chemistry, but the two performers identified as "clowns" in the programme, are the backbone of the production. Holly Gibbs and Steven Shriner -the aforementioned nattily dressed couple- not only play a dozen or more characters apiece but handily rearrange objects for scene changes, a nifty construct which works well with the modular set.
The set, a fiendishly ingenious assemblage of ordinary objects, moves nearly as quickly as the performers and the action, and is great fun to watch. Director Anthony Lane Hinkle- who serves also as set and costume designer- creates a skeleton of settings that are familiar enough that our imaginations fill in the rest. Stage manager Lyn Belzer-Tonnessen and running crew Abby Grimsley and Cole Bishop tend to the technicalities of each scenario while Gibbs and Shriner are busy acting. Sound and light designers Brian Kehoe and Kel Millionie help create each environment with imagination and snappy timing (kudos to the sound and lighting techs).
Though the plot may be familiar to Hitchcock fans, the interpretation and delivery of THE 39 STEPS are twisty and non-standard enough to provide delightful surprises throughout the entirety of the two hour show. It's just the thing to brighten a dreary winter evening, and absolutely worth seeing, possibly twice.
THE 39 STEPS is scheduled to play through February 14th, Thursday (January 21st and 28th only), Friday and Saturday nights at 8 pm and Sundays at 2 pm, though the impending weather event may necessitate certain adjustments.
Fells Point Corner Theatre is at 251 South Ann Street, Baltimore, MD, 21231
See http://www.fpct.org/shows/the_39_steps/ for tickets or more information.
Pictured: Grayson Owen, Ann Turiano; Photo Credit Kel Millionie