SANDY — From the Alfred Hitchcock-esque preshow announcement to the zany curtain call, Sandy Arts Guild’s The 39 Steps makes for a delightfully fun evening. The show is not new for director Laura Bedore Lerwill, who has directed it in the area before. And the plot will not seem new to anyone who has seen Hitchcock’s 1935 film of the same name, which was adapted from the stage play by Patrick Barlow (based on the novel by John Buchan). The play is a loving tribute to the spy thriller genre. The cast of four actors and two facilitators (who land somewhere between stage crew and bit player) play an inordinate number of characters, sometimes several simultaneously, infusing the script with absurd hilarity.
The cast, overall, is strong. Although the first couple of scenes seem to drag, the energy level improves as the production progresses and the cast settles into their (many) roles. Roger Dunbar as Richard Hannay has great comic timing, manages the varied silly dialects well, and has a keen knack for pantomime. Ashley Slater’s over-the-top performance in the various female roles infuses the production with some much-needed energy. Joseph Thompson and Riley Trepanier as Clown 1 and Clown 2 take on the herculean task of playing all the other roles in the production and do so earnestly.
Brooks Bedore and Mikenzie McIntyre as Facilitators 1 and 2 embraced their roles with contagious enthusiasm. These two performers own the funniest moment of the whole production when the two saunter across the stage as sheep blocking traffic. They are hilariously costumed by Karen Chatterton, in sheep onesies and leather jackets, and casually smoke cigarettes while lazily baa-ing. Chatterton’s quick change costumes throughout the show are creative and take on their own comedic life. Costume changes occur in various ways, such as a simple hat swap, a full costume tucked inside another, costumes handed off in a stage crossing, or pulled from under a desk.
The set, designed by Dwight Western, is notably sparse at the top of the show: just a couple of staired platforms and a leather chair. This sparseness is needed for such a fast-paced odyssean plotline, as much of the comedy draws from the silly use of ludicrous set pieces that seem to appear out of thin air. And yet, there are moments where the set loses this requisite simplicity and gets in its own way. This leads to several long scene changes and moments of clunky staging with unnecessary set pieces cluttering up the stage, such as too many manually held and manipulated doors, many of which could have been pantomimed or eliminated altogether. There are some moments of comic genius involving the set pieces, however. For example, one scene that used a facilitator as a lamp base, or another scene’s podium magically transforming into the next scene’s car. These bits make me wish for more these moments of stagecraft brilliance.
The use of an upstage screen for projecting information about time and place, as well as a bit of shadow-puppetry is an interesting technical element of this production. It helps move the plot along and provides some more opportunities for comedy. However, there were times when the projections distracted me from the play. Lerwill’s direction works, but sometimes she also gets in her own way. Her direction is chock full of extremely funny bits, like a character’s death throes, the crowded train car shuffle, and the aforementioned sheep. But at other moments, the pace is far too leisurely, allowing some of the comedy to fall flat. This occurs particularly in the first half of the show, when establishing an over-the-top, lighting-quick pace is crucial to informing the audience of the type of comedy to expect throughout the production.
There are nice touches when the cast comes into the house to interact directly with the audience. Similarly, Hannay’s speech as an imposter political candidate is a poignant moment amidst the chaos where the audience is invited to connect with the character on a deeper level. Dunbar handles this scene very well, inspiring a bit of introspection before suddenly returning to the silliness of the context of the speech within the plot.
Overall, Sandy Arts Guild’s The 39 Steps is very entertaining. The talented cast and crew are clearly enjoying themselves, and that joy is contagious.