Jul 14, 2019
Reviewed by Malena Eljumaily
Anyone looking to liven up the midsummer doldrums should head on over to the Cloverdale Performing Arts Center for “a hilarious evening of murder and mayhem” in the form of their stage production of The 39 Steps.
Most people, if they know The 39 Steps at all, know the 1935 Hitchcock movie. That version was loosely adapted from a 1915 novel by the Scottish writer John Buchan. The play was adapted by Patrick Barlow, derived mostly from the movie and paying fulsome tribute to the master of suspense.
This is a fast-paced, lively production (directed by Yave Guzman) relying very little on elaborate sets and a cast of thousands. In fact, only four actors take on dozens of roles and it’s a hoot to watch.
Our hero is Richard Hannay (Chris Johnston) a Canadian ex-pat living in 1935 London. Hannay is tall, handsome and distinguished, but exists is in a bit of a rut until he decides to spend an evening at the theater and his life is changed forever. While watching a performance by Mr. Memory (Dan Stryker), Richard meets a beautiful, mysterious woman named Annabella Schmidt (Sandy Ziviani). She accompanies him home to his modest flat and trouble ensues.
I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, because it’s all so delightfully unexpected. But, Richard is soon on the lam, heading up to Scotland in hopes of discovering what the 39 steps are and how they relate to saving England from tyranny.
Chris Johnston is the only actor allowed to stay in his one character throughout the play. Sandy Ziviani plays three women, and does a great job of differentiating them beyond their hair color and costumes. Along with Dan Stryker,Austin Schmidt takes on a variety of roles, sometimes gender-bending. Although sporting a neatly trimmed beard, Schmidt passes muster as a woman.
Both these actors have as much fun with their character switching as the audience does in watching it. They literally wear many hats in a couple of scenes. The costume design by Alice Gulleyhas fun with the fast costume changes, making use of hats and layering to get the job done.
As stated above, the sets are simple, usually consisting of no more than a few strategically placed benches. This makes for quick scene changes and as there are 33, that’s an important feature.
Despite this lack of embellishment, it’s easy to figure out where the action is taking place. The play has fun with these limitations as when a car doesn’t seem to be there when needed. And wait until you see how they stage a chase on the outside of a train and a drop from the Forth Bridge.
A lot of action is conveyed and enhanced by David Tabor’s sound design. We never see any rain, but believe the characters are trudging through a storm simply from hearing the weather. The same can be said for the lighting design that director Yave Guzman uses to convince us a manhunt is taking place on the moors at night.
I’ve used the words “fast” and “fun” more than once in this review. I could change a few to “rapid” and “amusing” but the meaning would be the same. Fasten your seat belts for this play. It’s not a bumpy ride, but a wild one and you’ll be laughing all the way.
Running July 13, 20 and 27 at 7:30pm; July 14, 21 and 28 at 2pm.
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