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Wallbyrd's The 39 Steps is a Must-See Production


Wallbyrd's The 39 Steps is a Must-See Production

The review below was written by Dan and Julie Izzo, Regional Contributors for BroadwayWorld Rochester

Stop! Before you read on.....(No. This is not some spoiler alert. I couldn't spoil the plot of this show if I wanted to. It is a reimagining of Hitchcock's early attempt at the genre that made him an icon of the movie industry. You've probably already seen the original or at least watched on TV, bleary-eyed, a late night 1930's black and white detective thriller.) No. Stop and quickly buy your tickets. Wallbyrd's production of The 39 Steps is that good and there are only 6 shows left. So take it from me, this show is a must-see! Click on this link now! You do not want to miss this one.

Patrick Barlow's 39 Steps spoofs Hitchcock's movie of the same title. However, it does so lovingly and with such fidelity to the original that this high-paced comic take is more homage than mocking jest. So often, spoofs intend to expose the trite corniness of worn out, clichéd melodramas. They constantly wink to the audience, maintaining an attitude of modern, vogue superiority. Barlow's play begins with Hitchcock's film version jamming in the projector and burning up. The ushers dedicated to honoring the story are impelled to tell it themselves. Mysteriously Richard Hannay, the lead character, appears and comes to life on stage. From this point on chaos ensues but the oft quoted British bromide, "Stay calm and carry on," drives Hannay's serenity and pluck. Again, Barlow doesn't mock but pays tribute to a sense of honor in a simpler time.

Frederick Pienkoski's dry, understated demeanor perfectly epitomizes the stoic wit seen in Hitchcock's film and the thrillers of the 1930's and 40's, a time when the leading men were unflappable and world weary. He becomes the calm center of the swirling storm of madcap antics. And oh what antics! Emily Lipski plays the three love interests who move both the story and Richard Hannay's libido. Each of her characters are archetypes of feminity that drive the male sexual psyche - the vamp, the farmer's not-so-innocent wife and the milk drinking girl next door. The two ushers performed by Cassie Buscemi and Kiefer Schenk play everyone else, transforming so rapidly that you have to experience it to believe it.

This kind of manic, fast-paced style has been done before in such shows as The Mystery of Irma Vep and The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged). Often the actors in these productions convey the humor by stumbling around and showing fatigue. Their struggles become the main comedy of the show. Like magicians accomplished in slight of hand, directors Jonathan Lowery and Virginia Monte never let the audience see the difficulty of the stunts presented. This production is constant motion; full of surprises, mime, amazing transformations and feats of physical skill. It is wonderfully creative and incredibly precise in it's execution.

The two Clowns/Ushers are wonderfully adept. Cassie Buscemi is part whirling dervish and part rag doll nimbly bounding and being tossed about the stage. Kiefer Schenk shines in each of the multitude of characters he portrays often channeling the innocence of Stan Laurel or the aristocratic aloofness of Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard. Emily Lipski is a sultry, clinging vine wrapping herself around Hannay all while maintaining a deft naturalness and intimacy in her acting. Central to this mayhem is Frederick Pienkoski's Hannay. His slightest raised eyebrow or subtle facial expression draws the audience in and mirrors our confusion, chagrin or delight.

Wallbyrd's production of The 39 Steps is a free wheeling tour de force, a spoof of the highest order. It deserves to be seen by a large audience, but it is a gift to see it up close in an intimate space. The production values are extremely high. The coordination of sound, light and action is astounding. The costuming is first rate and the set design is clever. It's one of the best and funniest shows you will see in Rochester. Wallbyrd's The 39 Steps will be playing at The Avyarium in Village Gate. If you haven't purchased your tickets already, do so now by clicking this link.

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From This Author Colin Fleming-Stumpf