By Michael “Buzz” Buzzelli, ‘Burgh Vivant
When droll British bachelor, Richard Hannay (Allan Synder) goes out for an entertaining evening of theater, he becomes embroiled in a web of espionage in “The 39 Steps,” a delightfully, funny play loosely (LOOSELY) based on the Alfred Hitchcock movie, which itself is based on John Buchan’s novel.
Hannay is bored with his life until he goes to the aforementioned show (a show within a play based on a movie based on a book…I can do this all day). A mnemonist aptly named Mr. Memory (one of Quinn Patrick Shannon’s crazy characters) stuns the audience with his eidetic memory tricks. A mysterious woman, Annabella Schmidt (Megan Pickrell), joins Hannay in the proscenium box. Annabella draws a gun and fires into the crowd. That’s when things get crazy. Actually, things start crazy and get crazier.
Annabella demands to go home with him, and he obliges eagerly. Once the blinds are drawn, she backs up a metaphorical truck and info dumps, revealing many plot points and tips that Hannay will need later, including a map to Alt Na Shellach, a resplendent home to Professor Jordan (one of Luke Halferty’s nutty characters).
When Annabella ends up dead in his apartment, the game is truly afoot. Hannay is on the run from the police (Quinn Patrick Shannon and Luke Halferty), villains (also Quinn Patrick Shannon and Luke Halferty), and various weirdos (once again, Quinn Patrick Shannon and Luke Halferty). If not for a crofter’s coat and the fortuitously well-placed hymn book, Hannay would be pushing up daisies. It’s a twisted plot, but the plot doesn’t really matter.
Everyone in the show is double, triple and quadruple cast except for Snyder who sticks to playing the lead. He does a superb job as the dashing hero, and he has terrific chemistry with Pickrell, who is enchanting (especially as Pamela). It’s Pickrell’s first foray onto the Pittsburgh stage, and here’s hoping we see a lot more of her.
This show isn’t really about the protagonist and his love interest(s). Playwright Patrick Barlow, who adapted the story, flipped the script, not just with crazy antics and comedic misdirection. Its biggest performances come from the wacky extras. Constantin Stanislavski once said, “There are no small parts, only small actors.” Director Guy Stroman cast big actors to fill a bunch of small parts. Halferty and Shannon play myriad roles, zany underwear salesman on a train, police officers, paperboys, townspeople, old people, young people, men and women. There’s a balletic synchronicity between the two men, and it is uproariously funny. It’s the precision of their movements that cause the largest fits of laughter. We get to see their hijinks ensue on the Scottish highlands, on a bumpy locomotive and in makeshift cars (plains, trains and automobiles?).
There are a lot of moving pieces in this play, and they are all executed flawlessly. Kudos to the entire crew. Even lighting designer Andrew David Ostroswki and sound designer Bob Bollman get into the act with a visual and auditory gag involving the title of the show.
It’s all quite silly when you get down to it, but it charms with an exceptional cast. Take as many steps as you need, run down and get tickets.
“The 39 Steps” runs all through summer (August 14, 2016) at the Cabaret at Theater Square, 655 Penn Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15222. For more information, click here.