BWW Review: THE 39 STEPS at Rep Stage in Columbia - It's a Sheer Delight!
When I left the Studio Theatre at the Horowitz Visual and Performing Arts Center at Howard Community College in Columbia where the Rep Stage is housed, I went up to Director Joseph W. Ritsch with a big smile on my face. He told me he wanted to end their season with a comedy that audiences would enjoy. Well, mission accomplished!
THE 39 STEPS is a mad-cap comedy that reminded me of the classic Charles Ludlam play IRMA VEP which played at Baltimore Center Stage in 1991. It was full of quick changes for two actors. Here there are four actors who do outstanding work thanks in large part to the expert direction of Ritsch who milks every ounce of comedy in the play adapted by Patrick Barlow, from the novel by John Buchan. Based on the Alfred Hitchcock masterpiece, this fast-paced spoof of the classic 1935 film is a celebration of Hitchcock and a joy to watch.
It won two Tony Awards and a Drama Desk Award in 2008 and the 2007 Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Comedy.
Ritsch explains in the program that historically, the play is set in the world of an old British vaudeville house. "I was interested in placing our production in Hitchcock's 1930"s sound stage at the Lime Grove Studios. I was excited by the idea of creating a cinematic experience during a live theatre event, as well as paying homage to one of the world's greatest film directors."
The play very cleverly has allusions to Hitchcock films including "Strangers on a Train", "Rear Window", "Psycho", "Vertigo", and "North by Northwest". Yes, there are knives, birds, and believe it or not, crop dusters. You will have fun looking for the inside jokes.
I love shows starting when you don't expect it. Director Ritsch has actors and crew entering the huge theater stage as if they were getting ready for a performance. They are trying on costumes, reviewing the script, looking in the mirror, and talking with each other. Then we hear the famous theme song from Hitchcock's television show (can you hum it?). Later you will hear the famous violins from "Psycho".
The play starts with a monologue by Richard Hannay (the amazingly suave Robbie Gay). He is sitting in an easy chair under a lamp which descends from the top of the theater. He is bored and fed up with newspapers filled with stories of "elections, wars and rumors of wars." He longs for "something mindless and trivial. Something utterly pointless." And what does he say next? "I know! I'll go to the theater!" I was hooked right there.
We next observe Richard pull up a chair in front of a red curtain of a stage which opens and we see two actors are performing a vaudeville show in which one has a tremendous memory. They are known as Clown 1 (Michael Wood) and Clown 2 (Noah Israel). These two actors deserve an award for their portrayal of over 100 characters and they amazing quick changes. They are hysterical.
The play takes place in London in 1935. Hannay meets Annabella Schmidt (the talented Kathryn who plays two other roles) who gets Hannay involved in helping her find out about an espionage scheme. The clue is the phrase "The 39 Steps" and whenever this phrase is stated the play stops with special lighting and music.
I do not want to say too much about what happens and except to say Hannay is accused of murder, escapes the police to Scotland where he finds a hotel where the two proprietors are wearing kilts and with their strong Scottish accents you will not stop laughing. Yes...they are played by Clowns 1 and 2.
Every inch of the theater is used. I loved the balcony scenes. You'll think you are watching a tennis match.
I also loved the end of Act I which includes "The Dance at the Gym" from WEST SIDE STORY.
The whole design team makes for a terrific and fun evening: James Fouchard Scenic Design, Properties Design by Jason Dearing, Costumes by Joan l. Mather, Conor Mulligan Lighting Design and Sarah O'Halloran's Sound Design.
Look for post-show discussions on May 17 and a pre-show lecture prior to the 2 p.m. performance on May 18.
THE 39 STEPS plays through May 19, 2019. For tickets, call 443-518-1500 or visit www.repstage.org. Please, do not miss this wonderful production!!1
Rep Stage has their fund-raiser REPARTEE, Saturday night, May 18, 2019 from 7 to 10 p.m. Call 443-518-1970