OREM — It is the second time I have seen The 39 Steps on the Utah stage. It is a lovely parody of an old Alfred Hitchcock movie. This adaptation is written by Patrick Barlow, based on the novel of John Buchan and the aforementioned movie. As an adventurous story of spies, murder, and government secrets, this production, directed by Barta Heiner, takes all the characters of the show and the plot and has the action played by four players and a Foley Artist. The Foley Artist, played by Eric Gourley, was one of the best parts of the evening, as he went a bit above and beyond your average sound and effects guy and added a great deal of humor and levity to the evening.
Levity is not usually something one puts in alongside Hitchcock, but The 39 Steps does not disappoint. The story follows Richard Hannay, played by Dallin Bradford, who gets caught up in the murder of a young lady, played by Alice Johnson in one of her many roles. Before Johnson’s character is murdered, the character reveals the mystery of The 39 Steps, and Hannay is left to unravel the mystery and runs into several characters played by Johnson and two “clowns, as they are billed, played by Jordan Nicholes and Anthony Leroy Lovato.
As the clowns, Nicholes and Lovato excel at slapstick humor and quick changes of character. One of the best moments they had together was a train scene, where I lost count of just how many accents and characters they were trying to portray. The amount of hat changes (I am a sucker for a good hat), accent changes, the way they carried their bodies, and just the general personas that they embodied were fantastic. Dialect coach Dianna Graham deserves commendation for the way she was able to get the characters moving from British to Canadian to Irish to Scottish without missing a beat.
The technical elements of The 39 Steps, especially for the small and slightly worn down space of the Hale Center Theater Orem, were quite impressive. From the costume design by Dvorah Governale, to the props by Linda Hale, to even some of the humor in directorial choices (the quip at seatbelts not being invented yet was really a pleasing moment), I truly enjoyed the performance more than I thought I would be able to in the small space. Even after having been able to see The 39 Steps in a bigger environment with a bigger stage design, I found the design here by Bobby Swenson was quite pleasing even in its simplicity. One of the highlights was an escape scene above the train, where some of the touches, including fake fog, wind, train sounds, and windows that add to the imagination were inspired. There is something to be said about adding just enough to start the picture and then trusting your audience to make up the rest. Director Heiner had a strong understanding of the positive and negative aspects of the space they were working in, and Heiner developed the production accordingly. Adding to the other technical elements was the lighting design by Ryan Fallis, who grasped the essential understanding that to have a good parody, dramatic lighting and sound must be employed. Sound designer Cole McClure provided the latter, and what resulted was the perfect melodrama needed to cap the evening.
There were some moments that dragged on, and while it is a fun story to behold, some of the nuances of the jokes can get tedious in nature with their repetition. None of this tedium is the fault of the cast, because their execution was pristine. Additionally, it has been nice to watch how Hale Center Theater Orem has been committed to cast and crew by producing shows that are small in order to keep a level of safety for the cast during this pandemic. Because The 39 Steps is meant to be an intimate production of four players, the stage and cast were not left to be in any danger, which left me as an audience member feeling comfortable about my entertainment choice.
Attending the The 39 Steps was a nice way to end a long week, and it was a reminder of the lighthearted fun and slapstick energy that can be had on the stage.