OGDEN — The 39 Steps, a play by Patrick Barlow, is a parody of an Alfred Hitchcock movie that takes four actors and two “stage hands” and that utilizes them to portray the entire story, in which hilarity ensues. Weber State University has undertaken the task to put on this show under the direction of Tracy Callahan with players Christian Clarke as mystery solver Richard Hannay and Sarah Michelle Jensen as the different leading ladies of the evening (first Anabella and then Margaret and then Pamela). One of the intriguing things about The 39 Steps is that many of the players are portraying various different roles, and no one does it better than the two “clowns,” Megan McLean and Jacob Stubbs.
McLean and Stubbs were absolutely the stars of this production, serving as the police, the innkeepers, the spies, the stage performers, the professor, and anything else that was needed. Their transitions between characters were absolutely sublime. Of note was their differing accents, which were coached by director Callahan. From different areas of Britain and Scotland, the smooth transitions were impeccable, sometimes happening within seconds and adding to the humor extensively.
Along with their talents were the costumes, designed by Catherine Zublin. I have not seen as many quick costume changes in one show as I have seen in this production. Additionally, the costumes were elaborate and well-designed. Zublin did great research to ensure that the 1930s time frame and the setting of Britain and Scotland were followed. From the pinstripe suits to the kilts and the terrific bagpiper outfits, it was a joy to see each new costume.
Set design was also elaborate and well thought out. As I walked into the Eccles Theater at the Browning Center, it felt like I was walking back stage of a great performance hall, and it turned out to be the exact scene I was supposed to be envisioning. Scenic designer Cully Long did not forget any detail, and from the elaborate box seats that were used as part of the action to the versatile pieces that could double as different elements for scenes, I was extremely impressed with how Long was able to transform the black box space of the Eccles.
Having never seen this play before, I was impressed with the physical comedy shown by all players. There are several scenes between Clark and Jensen where their characters are stuck in close situations and have to show great talent in physical comedy in order to find a way out. It was entertaining to watch how the characters would find their way out of these complicated situations. Mclean and Stubbs also had impressive physical comedy and timing, and I was laughing throughout the entire production.
Many of the technical elements were also impressive. Two of the musical themes of the show were originally written for this production by Gabriel Priest and Matt Mitchell; it is wonderful of Weber State to utilize the talent of their students in order to add to the quality of their productions and the education of their students. The sound designer, Grace Heinz, had many other elements of sound, from the music that played when important clues were shared to the music that was played when the character of Hannay would move toward solving the crime, that gave the show the fun parody feel without making it too campy. I also thoroughly enjoyed the lighting design by William Peterson, especially in a scene where they included a scrim and a few model planes for a bit of visual fun and a cool escape.
Two others need to be mentioned, credited in the program as the “Movers and Shakers,” Priest and Hunter Jex. They are dressed as stage hands and do much of the set changing and scenery moving, but unlike most shows, they also add a lot to the comedic efforts and do so in a way that deserves a great shout out. The way they keep the pace running and the humor going was so impressive and deeply entertaining.
I attended this play with my sister-in-law who lived in Britain for some time, and she said it may be one of her favorite plays now, which is high praise indeed. Nice work, Weber State Theatre Department, for bringing good British humor and light-hearted fun to the stage. It is something needed right now.