After nine years of excellent theatre, Dignity Players will be closing their doors, but they aren’t going out without a bang. Action! Excitement! Romance! Special Effects! Chases! Deception! Murder! It’s all there in the theatre’s final production, The 39 Steps. Directed by Jim Reiter, this thrilling Hitchcock-esque comedy and parody is the perfect way to end an era of wonderful thought-provoking, engaging theatre. While it is sad to see them go, their best foot is forward with this final production, a comic good time for all.
Starting the pre-show entertainment with clips of old Hitchcock movies gets the audience in the mood for the show. Director Jim Reiter brings a series of clever choices to this production, such as using shadow puppets of Wright Brothers’ model planes during the plane-chase scene, and using digital projections throughout the performance to enhance the aspects of spectacle. Staying true to the script, Reiter keeps the non-scripted gags to a minimum, not allowing them to run away with the show so that you focus upon the story and the humor crafted within the text.
At the performance I attended some of the comic timing in the production was a bit off, but as the show progressed it improved. It’s the character delivery that makes this production stand out, the two clowns in particular taking on dozens of characters with various accents and hats.
Costume Designer Jean Christie crafts the look of 1930’s United Kingdom into the show with the several dresses reserved for Rebecca Ellis’ three characters, as well as the sharp coats that the clowns wear every time they are posing as some sort of law enforcement. Getting the stripes of the Scottish highlands into the mix, Christie captures every aspect of comedy that can be had in the wardrobe department, especially when it comes to the overly fancy hats used on Miss Ellis.
Ty Cobb is the only performer of the bunch who does not alternate roles. Taking on the leading position of Richard Hannay, Cobb delivers the character without the standard British accent. His quick quips when dealing with the various women (played by Rebecca Ellis) deliver with a hint of sarcasm, and are where a great deal of his humor is created. Watch Cobb’s physicality as well, shimmying out from under a corpse as well as traveling along the top of a moving train are two of his finer moments in regards to physical humor.
Ellis, playing three different women with three very distinct accents, lands her mark every time. Starting as the suspicious but fantastically femme fatale Russian woman, her coy seduction is a fiery start to her existence in the show. Shifting into the British prude, Ellis adapts her accent, posture, and delivery accordingly and without hesitation. There is a brief switch from frigid sow to lusty Scottish farm girl, again a complete character shift to the point of thinking that Ellis is a completely different actress, before going back to the rather stuffy prig. Ellis’ voice, regardless of her accent, masters the sound of the 1930’s, delivering the dialogue and phrasing of the time period as if she were born in that era.
It’s the clowns, Duncan Hood and Eric Lund, who keep the laughs rolling in this production. From their endless ‘lamppost’ gig at the top of the show to the quick-switching at McGarrigle’s country inn, the pair are quite the comic duo. Despite their timing in the changes not always being perfect, they execute them well. Hood’s Mister Memory is an absolute scream, particularly with the accent he uses and the facial expressions he plays in those scenes. Often doubling as the ‘females’ like the swinging simpleton Professor Jordan’s wife, his falsetto adds a great deal of humor to his portrayal. Hood as McCorquodale with his barely heard whispering gibberish, is one of his finest characters. Lund takes on just as many roles, his finest being the sinister and slightly German Professor Jordan. Together they make the car scene a hoot, assembling the car and remembering that they are in fact in England.
Come and laugh a lot at Dignity Players’ The 39 Steps. 39 big thanks for all the terrific theatre you have provided all these years. We wish you well and we will miss you.
Running Time: 2 hours, with one intermission.
The 39 Steps plays through May 17, 2014 at Dignity Players performing at The Unitarian Universalist Church of Annapolis— 333 Dubois Road, in Annapolis, MD. Tickets can be purchased by calling the box office at (410) 266-8044 ext. 127 and by purchasing them online.
Watch the teaser video here.