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BWW Review: The Pollard Theatre Company Struts Into Season 34 with THE 39 STEPS

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The Pollard returns with Season 34 opener The 39 Steps.

BWW Review: The Pollard Theatre Company Struts Into Season 34 with THE 39 STEPS

The Pollard Theatre Company in historic Guthrie, OK is a particularly special place. Any performer, technician or patron who enters through the doors feels welcome and at home. This theatre is especially important to me. In those comfy folding chairs, I spent critical formative years watching A Territorial Christmas Carol. I also ventured up to Guthrie to see The Odd Couple, The Producers, and Bring it On. Something about going to the theatre just made me feel better. No matter what was going on, if I could sit down at Christmas and enjoy a play with my family, everything felt okay. Going to the Pollard became a place of comfort for me in the hardest times in my life.

In the fall of 2017, I sat in Row D to watch Hedwig and the Angry Inch, and in those 100 minutes, my life changed forever. That was when I became a writer, because of this theatre and the production of what is now my favorite show. Any time I walk into the lobby of The Pollard, the first thing I do is inhale deeply. A certain old, comforting smell seeps through the building. I miss it when I'm gone, and when I get to come back, for once I'm finally home.

The Pollard was forced to go dark in the early days of COVID, and this shutdown hurt the worst. Everyone felt those doors shut indefinitely, and the OKC theatre community grieved in a very particular way. This theatre raised us - artists, patrons, musicians, technicians, writers, singers, dancers - anyone who is involved in the arts in Oklahoma has come to this theatre as they were, and left better. We all hoped The Pollard would return, and sooner rather than later.

In the downtime, a shift occurred. The theatre is now under the direction of new Artistic Director Jared Blount. A longtime favorite and company member, Blount replaces former AD W. Jerome Stevenson. Stevenson poured his heart and soul into everything The Pollard did, and he left big shoes to fill. His leadership style was collaborative and supportive, and we all should trust Stevenson's decision to hire Blount to take his place. Blount is a beautiful artist, a gifted performer, and a hardworking director. Thankfully, the theatre we all know and love so much is in more than capable hands. Blount wears all the hats as usual and directs, sound designs, and designs props for the season opener The 39 Steps.

Wil Rogers stars as Richard Hannay in this parody spy thriller. The 39 Steps is loosely based on the 1935 Alfred Hitchcock film and was adapted for the stage in 2005 by Patrick Barlow. The show begins innocently enough, with the protagonist beginning his evening... at the theatre. This "play within a play" concept hardly ever works, but here it's well suited and perfectly farcical. Mister Hannay's evening is interrupted by the sound of a gunshot, and the beautiful, mysterious woman in the booth with him begs him to take her home. Ever the gentleman, Mister Hannay obliges. The bachelor and the lady, Annabella, head home for the evening. However, Annabella's exit is as dramatic as her entrance, and Mister Hannay finds himself enveloped in a murder mystery before the night is over. Hannay also happens to be the sole witness and prime suspect. Hannay must run from the authorities and save the country, all while trying to discover the secret of a mysterious phrase that Annabella provides before expiring; what, or who, are The 39 Steps?

Rogers is always a strong performer, and here he brings his best and then some. Rogers is a serious talent, but doesn't take himself too seriously. As Mister Hannay he's suave and charming, but just ambiguous enough to make him seem a little guilty. The air conditioner goes out before the curtain rises, and by late in Act I, even the ghosts are sweating. But Rogers doesn't miss a "step", at one point running on stage with two coats on. In August. With no air conditioning. Rogers is nothing if not a pro, and he makes it look easy. He's witty and sharp, with an eye for the ladies. He's a true leading man in this crime-comedy.

Jessa Schinske is multifaceted in several roles, stepping in as the sexy, mysterious Annabella and setting events in motion. Schinske can switch characters, accents, costumes, wigs, voices, and demeanors in the blink of an eye. She's fully "inwolved", a Jane of all trades and the master of them all. Schinske is dynamite. Where has she been hiding? Shame on OKC; she needs all the roles now. For years, she's been upstaged by less talented divas, and Schinske wipes the floor with them all. It's her time now. The reviewer has spoken. She can and does do it all, and nobody is better suited to go toe to toe, or arm in arm, with Rogers.

The two leads have explosive chemistry, and it's fun to see the various romantic rendezvous they have throughout the show. It's obvious from watching their physical interactions that The Pollard is creating a safe space for artists. This is important to point out. We're finally taking a turn in this industry, and changing for the better.

David Fletcher-Hall and Kris Kuss play dozens of roles, many at the same time, in a never-ending spiral of confusion and hilarity. Neither breaks stride or misses a cue, and the antics they have to pull off are epic in their difficulty. It should be noted that Kuss was a late addition to the cast, signing on to play a role for an actor who dropped out. I point this out only because he pulls it off effortlessly, and it shows what a trooper he really is. Fletcher-Hall and Kuss are comedic timing personified, and they bring the crazy to a whole new level.

All hands on deck takes on a new meaning with a show like this, which requires constant set and costume changes. Michael Long is excellent as Stage Manager and lighting designer, and the crew is superb as well. Lisa Mack serves as light operator, Larz Justice is Deck Manager, and Ashlynn Chapman is Assistant Deck Manager. Destiny Mack and Brooke Smoot are dressers, and they have their work cut out for them. Special thanks goes to Aaron Marshall and Grant Brittan for donating their time and energy, and for their dedication to The Pollard.

We did it! The Pollard is back. And it came with lots of tears, prayers, laughs, sweat, and above all, team work. This beautiful theatre that means so much to everyone in the community is open again, and we can finally breathe a sigh of relief. The 39 Steps is the perfect opener to this season, and hopefully this theatre will never close again.

The 39 Steps is "wery" funny and runs until August 28th at The Pollard Theatre, 120 W. Harrison Ave in Guthrie, OK. For tickets, step right up to thepollard.org or call the Box Office, 405-282-2800. You'll be glad you did.


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