Review: Unending chuckles in Metropolis' Hitchcock farce 'The 39 Steps'

Arlington Heights performing arts center continues through April 3

If you venture to Arlington Heights’ Metropolis Performing Arts Center to see the Olivier and Tony award-winning production, “The 39 Steps,” I promise you two hours filled with guffaws, continuous applause and unending chuckles. Part spy-novel and who-dunnit, flavored with a dash of romance, “The 39 Steps” is an entertaining delight.

Based on Hitchcock’s 1935 classic film and strongly influenced by “Monty Python” and the comedy of Mel Brooks, “The 39 Steps” follows Londoner Richard Hannay’s flight as he becomes a fugitive on the run, wrongly blamed for the murder of seductive spy Annabella Schmidt.

This is a fast-paced and well-acted ensemble comedy – incredibly, just four actors. Ellen Cribbs, Joseph Daniels, Edward Fraim and Andrew Pond portray a variety of characters.

Fraim, as Hannay, is the consistently excellent heroic lynchpin of “The 39 Steps,” and Daniels and Pond are lightning-fast actors who sometimes portray multiple characters at the same time. (There are proportedly more than 100 characters, but you’re having so much fun, who counts?) This is an extremely attractive ensemble, both in physical appearance as well as in their acute physical comedy skills.

There is not a flawed scene or dropped line anywhere, and even wayward fog can’t dispell their talents.

Everything works together to make “The 39 Steps” a success. The set by Katie Alvord-Wendling, albeit simple, is uncluttered, but extremely effective with projections and wheeled-on and -off set pieces that pay tongue-in-cheek homage to Hitchcock (no spoiler alerts – you’ll know). The costumes by Rachel Parent are period appropriate, especially Hannay’s natty Harris Tweed (terribly British) and Pamela’s particularly tight red skirt and spectator heels.

Lighting Designer Chelsea Lynn and Fight Choreographer Tory Helgeson probably have the best sight gags throughout. When Daniels and Pond (sounds like a vaudeville act) wheel out a board with Lynn’s program title and name and smirk, she immediatedly plunges them into pitch black darkness. Helgeson brings precise, crisp fake face slaps and rollicking floor wrestling.

Kudos to dialect coach Andrew Pond, who nailed the varying UK accents and ramped up the comedic complaints of a Scottish brogue. And it all ingeniously is directed by Metropolis regular David Belew.

It takes a lot of expertise and timing to make a comedy work so seamlessly, not to mention to bring to life the heroes, villains, men, women and children of the classic Hitchcock film and John Buchan novel in its entirety. Bravo!

This is the Metropolis’ 15th anniversary season, and if they continue to present similar first-class productions, they most assuredly can expect 15 more.

• Regina Belt-Daniels is a working actress and director who began her career onstage in 1985 at the Woodstock Opera House. Currently serving on the Raue Center for the Arts Board, she also is a lifetime member of TownSquare Players and a retired District 47 teacher.

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