“39 Steps” at Midland Center for the Arts: action packed onstage thriller

By Josie Norris, editor-in-chief. 

MIDLAND– The play, “39 Steps,” is an action packed, comedic adventure reminiscent of an old action Hollywood film brought to Midland Center for the Arts Center Stage Theatre. The play is based on the 1953 film by Alfred Hitchcock, itself an adaptation of the 1915 novel by John Buchan. “39 Steps” is a classic thriller of espionage, adventure, and romance.

The show centers on Richard Hanney, an average Joe who is swept up into the adventure of his life across the Isle of Great Britain in the summer of 1935. A chance encounter with a gorgeous Russian spy leads Hanney on a quest to discover the secret of the “39 Steps” *dun dunn dunnn*, yes that is no exaggeration, every mention of the phrase “the 39 Steps” cues the most dramatic music as a running joke throughout the play.

The most challenging part of performing the play must have been the cast size. Not because it is extraordinarily large, quite the opposite- it is a cast of four. To further add to the challenge, only one of the four plays the same character the entire show, meaning that the other three play numerous roles; often switching characters mid-scene.

The lightning fast character and costume changes add to the high energy performance and nature of the show. It is reminiscent of a child’s game of pretend- transforming from character to character and traveling through time and space.

The multi-purpose and functional set and design utilized as many casters as possible to allow pieces to spin and roll into place with ease. Scenic transitions often were made in mere seconds.

The script is witty and filled with subtle humor, but the moments that got the most laughs were the physical comedy based jokes. The audience roared with laughter over fog filled chase scenes and a man in a dress while moments of more subtle comedy, like the description of Hanney becoming more and more handsome as the police look for him, didn’t have the same reception. The actors picked up on that quickly and seemed to adjust their performance to emphasize the physical comedy.

“39 Steps” *dun dunn dunnn* was an entertaining show that really immersed the audience into the story and the whole production team and cast really stepped up to the challenge of this old Hollywood thriller story brought to the stage.

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