150 zany characters, four actors, 1 stage. It could be none other than the two-time Tony Award-winning production Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps! And it’s sneaking its way onto the Maryland Ensemble Theatre stage to kick off their 2012/2013 season!
Directed by Genè Fouchè, this rousing good time brings you a farce of crime noir with slapstick a plenty. There’s even some good old fashioned romance thrown in the mix, not to mention an on-stage plane crash, handcuffs, and the amazing Mr. Memory! A wacky thrill ride that is sure to keep you in stitches from beginning to end, this production brings laugh after laugh to the audience for a romping good night at the theatre.
The intimate staging at MET brings the audience up-close and personal with the hilarity of Patrick Barlow’s brilliant adaptation of the novel that was adapted from the classic film. Every move made be it the pantomiming shenanigans of the two clowns as they bluster through some 146 different characters or the sheer physical tension between the story’s two potential lovers is set with the intense focus of delivering it directly into the lap of the audience. Each facial expression is that much more poignant when it’s a mere arm’s length from those watching. The hysterics are intensified by subtleties noticeable only at such a close range. This production holds its own in a league of big-staged versions and will keep you elated until the very end.
Fouchè corrals four talented performers into one space and creates a world of physical comedic genius among them. The slapstick comedy element of this production is intrinsic to the success of this show and she nails it on the head with her skillful direction in this delicate art form. Each scene unfolds with an extra kick of pizzazz as the mimicry, pantomime gestures, and overall physical nonsense builds in intensity on its way to the tumultuous conclusion of this show.
The four actors have something to be said for their effort to create a masterpiece in this comedic show. The chemistry between the four of them is enchanting; inviting the audience into a deep working relationship of trust that showcases how to have fun while still executing the style and technique of the various forms of comedy on the stage. Working together to make each scene glow with life these four performers are the perfect professional quartet of engaging acting that will keep you on the edge of your seat from the moment they’re each introduced until the moment you part ways with them for the exit.
Tackling almost all of the female roles in this production is the fiery pistol Lisa Burl. Her ability to distinguish her accents between her three characters is nothing short of flawless. She spends the most time as the haughty British woman Pamela, but during her moments as the German spy and the shy Scotish woman of the shire her accents are respectively unmistakable and exaggerated to a level well-representative of a farce. Most of her physical interactions occur with Richard Hannay (Matthew Baughman) and the chemistry they share is ingenious.
The shenanigans that occur between the pair while they spend a good portion of the second act being handcuffed together are truly remarkable. Burl makes excellent use of her spatial relationship to Hannay, playing up the distance or lack thereof in crucial moments to heighten the over-dramatized emotions that run between them. She draws laugh after laugh from the audience during the more hectic scenes by doing absurdly simple things like simply holding the window frame as a means through which the other characters escape a moving train, and then leaning out of the frame with a wistful look of longing to join them upon her face. Brul tackles the difficulty of carrying the female essence throughout the show without fail and gives a rather remarkable performance.
The uproarious laughter comes from Clown 1 (Andrew L. Baughman) and Clown 2 (Tad Janes). Together their hyjinx adds up to instant hilarity as they jump from character to character creating instances of several people existing on the stage when in reality it is never more than just the two of them. The infamous hat-swap scene on the train is executed to perfect between these two creating several minutes of gut-busting hilarity as they rapidly flip between a series of several characters in a matter of seconds.
Janes best utilizes his body to physically express distress throughout the comedic moments, especially when playing the nefarious professor with his dick-dastardly plans and works extremely well with Andrew Baughman during scenes where they both play bumbling idiot henchmen. Baughman creates an exceptional presence on the stage, each of his characters having a uniquely warped sense of humor and a signature gesture or facial expression to define them by. Baughman’s most memorable characters include the ridiculous partying wife of the professor and the mesmerizing Mr. Memory who will give you a fit of the giggles that is utterly contagious.
Matthew Baughman, playing opposite his brother, as the only character to remain as a single character, does the role of Richard Hannay an extreme justice of the best variety. His accent is that of a muddled Sherlock Holmes and his facial expressions are nothing short of flawless – everyone crafted, held and then extended for the sake of comical reverie. His use of the stage – mainly running around it so much – allows the audience to perceive a much larger space than the one they are presented with and his extreme physical comedy provides laugh after laugh as he escapes from under a corpse, performs hand-to-hand combat on the side of a speeding train, and tries to stop the evil plots of Professor Jordan.
They share a bond of comedy and these four performers make The 39 Steps one of the most enjoyable, uplifting an hysterical evenings you will have out at the theatre trying to solve a mystery that could save the world in just under two hours time.
Jolly good show.
Running Time: Two hours with one intermission.