Saturday, June 4, 2016

Theater Review: The 39 Steps Ivoryton

Larissa Klinger, Dan Fenaughty, Jonathan Brody and David Edwards. Photo: Ivoryton Playhouse
Mystery Spoof Provides Lots of Laughs for Hitchcock Film Fans
By Lauren Yarger
There’s a man who knows too much. He can see spies from the rear window, planes are hunting him north by northwest and the lady who gave him some important information has vanished.

If you are seeing a Hitchcockian trend there, you’re right and should probably get yourself right over to Ivoryton Playhouse where the hilarious spoof of the film, The 39 Steps, is getting a run.

This Tony-Award nominated play conceived by Simon Corble and Nobby Dimon has four actors taking on all of the parts (there are more than 150) in the 1935 Alfred Hitchcock thriller. The play’s book is written by Patrick Barlow as a farce, borrowing movie’s plot, based on the novel by John Buchan. While the Hitchcock film is strictly a serious life-and-death thriller, this version is a hoot.

In pre-World-War II England, Richard Hannay (Dan Fenaughty) finds himself in the middle of a race to get secret information about the nation’s air defense out of the country. Mysterious Annabella (Larissa Klinger) mentions “The 39 Steps” just before she is murdered. 

Hannay finds himself on the run when he is suspected of her murder, but he isn’t sure why all these spies are chasing him or what “The 39 Steps” mean. In a trek that takes him to Scotland and back to a music hall in London, Hannay ends up romantically attached -- physically by handcuffs when they make an escape from spies (Jonathan Brody and David Edwards) masquerading as police officers – to Pamela Edwards (also Klinger) who doesn’t believe his outrageous spy tale at first.

Full of slapstick, the play spoofs the movie and has some fun with references to others of Hitchkock’s classic films. The rotund director even makes a cameo appearance in the tradition of his silhouette appearing in the background of a scene.

The gags are funny and imaginative: a few travel trunks transform Daniel Nischan’s set into the top of a speeding train where an exciting chase ensues; a door opens to reveal, with the help of a few shadows and music (Lighting Design by Marcus Abbott; Sound Design by Tate R. Burmeister), a festive party taking place somewhere else in a house or winds blowing in from the Scottish moors.
Edwards and Brody, officially billed as Clowns #1 and 2,  play a plethora of characters, making lightning-fast transitions between them at times with just the change of a hat (Costume Design by Cully Long; Wig Design by Elizabeth Cipolina). The actors are funny and particularly amusing when playing some of the female characters.

Fenaughty is dashing as the handsome hero and he and his real-life wife Klinger bring natural chemistry to the parts (and seem to be having a lot of fun up there together).

I saw a preview of the show, so I am hoping that the one flaw -- a creeping pace -- will be corrected by Director Erik Bloomquist before opening. The split-second timing and quick pace are essential to the successful  execution of this farce.

Catch Hannay if you can in The 39 Steps at Ivoryton Playhouse, 103 Main St., Ivoryton, through June 19. Performances are Wednesday and Sunday matinees at 2 pm. Evening performances are Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 pm, Friday and Saturday at 8 pm. Tickets are $44 for adults; $39 for seniors; $22 for students and $17 for children. (860) 767-7318;

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)
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