TheatreSquared’s fifth season opener, Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps, delivers on the goods.
The play, a hilarious and inventive adaptation by Patrick Barlow of the John Buchanan spy novel turned 1935 Hitchcock masterpiece, follows the flight of falsely accused Richard Hannay (Avery Clark) from the murder of a mysterious woman in his London flat (Sabrina Veroczi).
The play tracks Hitchcock to a faithful extreme, but plays up every moment for laughs, not the least of which is the scramble of the four-person cast to fulfill what seem like a hundred roles. Jason Guy and Kristopher Stoker play everything from British spies to Scottish inn keepers, switching gender, age and costume at will in a tour de force performance that steals the show. Clark plays the innocent lead to a respectable T as his character tracks down information on the elusive 39 Steps, while Veroczi plays his various romantic interests with all the grace or grit that her myriad characters demand.
The set design and lighting are as remarkable as the performances of the all-but-serious-business cast in the production. The Spartan design offers everything to the imagination, so that a few old trunks may serve as a train car, then the roof of the train, and in the next scene, a dining table. Likewise, a few chairs become a sputtering locomotive, or a hat makes up one character entire. The chase scene depicted as shadow play is particularly delightful, as is the promised on-stage plane crash. One of my favorite moments, and a very effective piece of direction and acting, turns a ladder that has been dragged to the front of the stage into a bridge from which Hannay dangles and eventually falls. I doubt many audience members will walk away without marveling at something.
Still, the execution of a few inevitable Hitchcock allusions feels off, particularly the shower-curtain-as-waterfall Psycho bit and a throw-away Vertigo gag. Also, a long scene in which our hero and his (or should I say, one of his) femme fatales trudge through the Scottish landscape handcuffed to each other is terribly long and all-too trudging. But in all fairness, one needs a breather after the accomplished fireworks of the first act.
The 39 Steps has everything: high comedy, adventure, film-buff fodder, and solid accents. The play is just a good pick. TheatreSquared showcases an impressive cast, spot-on direction by the wonderful Michael Landman and a whole slew of technical feats that push the limits of convention. It is just the kind of theatre Fayetteville needs to see more of, theatre spelled that way. In general, a great send-off from one of our area gems.
TheatreSquared is located in Nadine Baum Studios on West Spring Street just a block from Dickson. Tickets are $22 or $10 if you qualify for their 30 Under 30 deal, and can be purchased at theatre2.org.