By Claire DeMarco
Richard Hannay (Hayden Bobbyn) brings Annabella Schmidt (Shea Sweeney) home after meeting her at a Mr. Memory presentation. She warns Richard about the 39 steps. She never explains what the 39 steps represent, but as a spy she knows she is in danger. Annabella encourages Richard to travel to Scotland to pursue the leader of this spy ring. She is convinced that someone will harm her. She is correct. She is murdered.
Probably not the climax Richard was anticipating.
Richard is the primary suspect in the murder, and he begins a wild escape from London to Scotland to find this mysterious spy. As he journeys to Scotland, he encounters wild circumstances and weird people along the way. All this while the police are in hot pursuit.
He meets Pamela (Shea Sweeney) who plays an important part in his adventures. She will be part of the solution when the enigmatic spy and murderer is identified.
Mr. Memory reenters the picture and also helps to solve the case.
Bobbyn is effective as he grows from a rather boring fellow who is agitated as he attempts to find the murderer and clear himself to a man who thoughtfully and deliberately contributes to the crime’s resolution. All of this done in almost constant gymnastic movements.
As Pamela, Sweeney develops from a prim and proper lady who softens as the play progresses. She is particularly funny in the scene where she and Bobbyn are cuff linked and in a compromising position.
Clown 1 (Austin James), Clown 2 (El Giaudrone), Clown 3 (Cadence Reid), Clown 4 (Joshua Reed), Clown Swing (Daria Lapidus) and Clown Swing (Rachel Pronesti) carry out multiple roles with various accents and props while maintaining critical timing.
Reid is effective as chameleon-like Professor Jordan, changing from smooth talker to aggressive attacker, sometimes with a German accent.
Reed’s comedy is highlighted in his portrayal of Professor Jordan’s wife and as the fumbling, near comatose presenter at a Scottish event.
Murder is not something to laugh about! But this is one exception in an extremely hilarious, ridiculously funny play.
A farce involves taking a serious situation and exaggerating it to the extreme. “The 39 Steps” overachieves with an emphasis on physical movement and contortions, miscues, mistaken identities and extreme facial expressions.
The set is simple with all of the props stacked neatly at the back of the stage. They are retrieved by the cast and crew as needed without any pretense of hiding that function from the audience.
Note: The actors are very fluid, rapidly speaking and moving from all parts of the stage. There are times when facing the back of the stage that their dialogue is sometimes muffled.
Directed by Mikki Monfalcone.
“The 39 Steps” was adapted by Patrick Barlow from the novel by John Buchan.
“The 39 Steps” is a production of Pitt Stages Productions – University of Pittsburgh, Henry Heymann Theatre. It runs from October 21 through October 30. For more information, click here.