Friday, May 27, 2016

"39 Steps" - Silly, Wacky, Yet Dazzlingly Entertaining




James Bond as played by Mike Myers meets Peter Sellers, a.k.a Dr. "Strangelove," with heavy splashes of Monty Python. That’s as close as I can get to an impromptu description on short notice of the madcap adventure experienced in "39 Steps."
Played under the guise of spy thriller, this fast-paced comedy drama is a whirlwind of talent in motion - everything from the cast of four who play scores of characters and Guy Stroman’s densely inventive direction to playwright Patrick Barlow’s crisp script, which keeps the suspense bubbling beneath the surface, Andrew David Ostrowski’s supportive lighting and sound designer, Bob Bollman’s eclectic menage of aural hints and insinuations.
It’s all happening on the stage of the Cabaret at Theater Square in Downtown Pittsburgh in a production by the Civic Light Opera. If I have any prognosticative (I think I just coined a new word) skills at all, I’m predicting it’ll be a BIG hit with a capital H.
Loosely  drawn from the 1915 novel by John Buchan which, in turn, spawned Alfred Hitchcock’s 1935 film of the same title, this "39 Steps" is a fast-moving escalator that takes you into a world of eccentric characters, played with praiseworthy moxie by Luke Halferty and Quinn Patrick Shannon.
The duo adeptly transform into cops and spies, a hotelier and his spouse (yes, there is some cross-dressing), salesmen on a train (bumping in sync as they sit in an imagined train) and assorted odd balls and kooks - more than 100 roles, some of which they morph into in seconds flat.
Keeping everything on a semi-sane kilter is Allan Snyder as the main protagonist, Richard Hanney, a Brit just returning home from overseas who gets much more than he bargains for while trying to enjoy an evening at the theater. Dashing and debonair, Snyder seems expert at drawing the line between spoof and reality, maintaining a sober demeanor in impossibly outlandish situations. And therein lies much of the fun.
Absolutely riveting in multiple female roles, Megan Pickrell is mysterious and seductive as Annabell, a dark-haired beauty who propels Hannay on his adventurous journey that involves train rides, running for his life through the Scottish moors, even a blitz by an airplane (one of the many Hitchcock cinematic references in the play, in this case, a scene from "North by Northwest").
Pickrell shows a much more innocent side in her role as the blonde Pamela, who at first becomes Hannay’s antagonist then turns into his accomplice as he wards off both the police and foreign operatives all the while trying to solve the mystery of the 39 steps.
Set designer, Tony Ferrieri, does a lot with a minimum of props and a devilishly clever arrangement of theater boxes at both ends of the stage, which are used by the director in imaginative ways.
From the looks of things the cast and crew put a lot of work in the production and it shows. Step by step, they keep the jollity rolling, the playfulness rollicking and the intrigue unrelenting  to the end.
 "39 Steps" is at the Theater at Cabaret Square, Downtown Pittsburgh thru August 14. For tickets, phone 412-456-6666 or visit website pittsburghclo.org.


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