Theater

Review: The 39 Steps

If you’re expecting the serious classic 1935 Alfred Hitchcock spy thriller, then rent the movie. If you’d like to experience a playful spoof, a farcical Monty Python-esque romp, then go see PM&L’s clever production of “The 39 Steps." It’s a tongue-in-cheek, resourceful, fast-paced whodunIt. Four actors play over 200 characters in a multi-location, sprawling action tale on a single stage – from London to Scotland via set pieces, projections, and props thanks to Mark Audrain and WOW Construction.

Kudos to director Casey Audrain, who has ensured a well-cast, witty staging of Patrick Barlow’s 2005 parody from beginning to end. And just watch out for those allusions and puns on the titles of other Hitchcock films.

“The 39 Steps” literally hurtles an innocent, ordinary man into a dastardly case of espionage, and all because he was bored one night and took himself to see Mr. Memory in the West End. He becomes a fugitive, north by northwest to Scotland’s most remote highlands; but can he save Britain from a den of devious spies and Nazis intent on stealing vital military secrets led by the supposedly respectable Professor Jordan, aka the notorious man with a missing top joint of his little finger?

This parody doesn’t stray too far from the 1915 John Buchan novel’s narrative, but there are several hysterical, if not delicious, scenes enacted by this talented ensemble: the Highland Express Train ride and subsequent Firth of Forth bridge escape, the Vote McCorquodale mistaken identity speech ... the timing, the deliveries, the sight gags, and the musical accompaniment by keyboardist Paul Bleadow are just spot on marvelous.

David Gasior is a brilliant Richard Hannay; his charming British accent never falters, he fits the bill of a very attractive fugitive, and his comedic and acting skills are beyond exceptional. He’s barely off the stage, much to our great appreciation. Gasior puts his definite if not definitive stamp on the role.

Liam Bell and Charlie Sommers are natural clowns. They play a range of characters: maids, detectives, Music Hall performers, salesmen, and all with luxuriant and varying accents. They are enthusiastically gleeful, frenetic and quick costume change masters. Bell and Sommers dazzle and engage, and it’s obvious they are kids in the proverbial candy store.

Gasior, Bell and Sommers are local lads by the way. All three have resumes including performances at the Woodstock Opera House, MCC and RCLPC theaters.

Erin Booth portrays all the females parts from noted spy Annabelle Schmidt to heroine Pamela Edwards. She’s pretty incredible too in what she undertakes and pulls off and has to deal with on that stage. She’s gallant and impressive.

The four’s antics are rounded off by the graceful additions of on stage/stage crew Chris Heilgeist and Heidi Zapp, charged mostly with furthering the story with the ingenious placement of inanimate objects and humorous actions; costumes by Lindsey Yates-Badtke and Jessica Augustine further the visual compliments.

The mayhem and zaniness of “The 39 Steps” provides a delightful escape and a unique experience. It’s won everything from the Laurence Olivier Award to the Moliere France Best Comedy, not to mention a Tony or two. PM&L’s production is riotously fun and well worth the ride to Antioch. It’s also probably one of the best productions I’ve seen on that intimate stage. Well done, all!

• Regina Belt-Daniels has loved acting since her starring role as Mother Goose in first grade. She continues to do what she loves best: act, direct, teach, travel, write theater reviews, and serve enthusiastically on theater boards throughout northern Illinois.

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