The 39 Steps at Village Theater: Mayhem At Its Finest

Expect “everything but the kitchen sink” — and then some — in Village Theatre’s production of The 39 Steps.

Adapted by Patrick Barlow for the stage in 2005, the play incorporates John Buchan’s 1914 spy novel with Alfred Hitchcock’s 1935 film adaptation. The play version heavily references Hitchcock’s work, and audience members familiar with his films will enjoy references to classics such as The Birds, Rear Window, and Psycho. Those unaccustomed to Hitchcock films will still laugh with hysteria and glee, watching four actors play 150 characters in a two-hour show.

The cast is a tour de force in a dynamic show full of physical theater, clowning, dizzyingly quick costume changes, and myriad accents. Aaron Lamb embodies the hero, Richard Hannay, a depreciating, fairly boring Englishman. Accused of the murder of Annabella Schmidt, he finds himself thrust into a world of mystery and deception in a classic man-on-the-run adventure. Emily Cawley plays icy, blonde bombshell Annabella Schmidt, along with the two other women who become romantically entangled with Hannay.

Orion Bradshaw and Chris Ensweiler mesmerize audiences as the Clowns who play the rest of the characters. They execute lightning-fast costume changes, often playing multiple people in a single scene. Their continuous and effortless changes in physicality and accents are a delight to watch. There’s the potential for over 100 characters to muddle together, but Bradshaw and Ensweiler pull off each distinct transformation with Olympian prowess. There are even a few moments for improvisation. In a recent performance, they referenced recent political events, which received enthusiastic applause.

Despite the show’s slapstick comedy, the actors refrain from cheaply asking for the laugh; rather, they invite you to become a part of the joke. They’re constantly aware of the show they must performance, and at the same time, they embrace every clichéd, incredulous moment. The effect is humor which avoids crudeness, and instead, finds success in joy, chaos, and creativity.

One must applaud director Matt Walker for embracing the “theatrical mayhem” of The 39 Steps. The show highlights not only a talented cast but also a high-caliber, professional production team. Just as quickly as the actors must switch between characters (including animals and inanimate objects), every single production element must be precisely executed: lighting, sound, set, and costumes. No part of the stage is off limits to a possible trap door, and some audience members may find actors scrambling over them. Both cast and crew manage a Herculean theatrical effort to captivate audiences all the more.

No matter what genre you label it — farce, slapstick, or “theatrical mayhem” — The 39 Steps promises non-stop laughs as it celebrates the magic of theater with a cheeky grin. The 39 Steps continues at the Village Theatre in Issaquah until February 26 before moving to Everett from March 3-26. Purchase your tickets online.

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