what's new

In Review: “The 39 Steps” Lead to Great Fun

Melbourne Civic Theatre "The 39 Steps"

It’s all about the fun with “The 39 Steps,” a high-camp theatrical romp through Alfred Hitchcock’s 1935 film.

Although credit goes to Patrick Barlow who adapted the play from John Buchan’s novel, there’s no mistaking the author, or rather, auteur, inspiring the two hours of madcap chasing and slinking dreamed up by Simon Corble and Nobby Dimon (really…?).

It begins simply enough with poor Richard Hannay bemoaning his plight of returning to the tedium of London. He decides to liven things up by going to the theater. Indeed. He becomes involved in a ripening plot involving murder, a spy ring and coppers hot on his heels.

The conceit here is that the cast of four play a reported 150 characters. And what a sweat they all work up.

Lucky Mark Blackledge — he gets to play only one, Hannay. But boy, what a performance he turns in. Director Peg Girard uses every ounce of Blackledge’s bent for physical comedy and draws out some very clever and witty moments. When the German spy falls dead on his lap (oh come on, you know right away that’s going to happen), he craftily slinks under her rigid body in order to get away eliciting a deserving round of applause.

Christina LaFortune shows off her sweet finesse with humor and parody as three different women: the slinky German, er…Cherman, spy Frauline Schmidt; Margaret, a sex-starved wife to a Scottish puritan; and Pamela, the stranger on a train who unwittingly gets involved with Hannay’s chase and ends up becoming a love interest (oh…come on, you knew that would happen as well).

That leaves the other 146 characters to Dana Blanchard and Pete Jacobsen, who really crank up the comedy. From spies, to old women, to newsies and more, Blanchard and Jacobsen keep the laughs coming.

Of course, to do the entire story/book/film on one acting area requires scenic/lighting designer Alan Selby to come up with a high-concept use of the stage.

The scenes flow into one another seamlessly and with many fun nods to the audience.
The production uses rear projection to advance location and even a shadow puppet bit to show off-stage action inspired by “North by Northwest.” With so much backstage action, when actors or crew pass behind the “screen,” if you will, it wobbles, which, for children of the ’50s, evokes memories of fathers showing home movies on a sheet hung on a living room wall. Not sure if that’s the intention, but it is the rustic result.

Other windows and scenic pieces come on and off stage courtesy of black-clad crew members. Doors are pantomimed very well thanks to Wendy Reader’s most excellent sound design. A nod also to stage manager Tynan Pruett who keeps his crew and actors on tight track.

This is not an easy production to tackle. It requires a solid theater company with members working well in concert. The non-stop, accelerating action requires considerable talent. MCT’s cast and crew live up to the challenge and deliver a fun, frothy opening for its new season.

Photo shows Pete Jacobsen as a London policeman trying to catch Richard Hannay, played by Mark Blackledge. Photo is by Chris Kridler, www.chriskridler.com.

SIDE O’ GRITS: “The 39 Steps” runs through Sept. 23 with performances at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $25 general, $23 seniors, military and students. MCT is at 817 E. Strawbridge Ave., Melbourne. Call 321-723-6935 or visit www.mymct.org.