This critic had a wonderful seat, front row center, and was greeted by an eclectic set, designed by Ron Krempetz and superbly constructed by Eugene DeChristopher, with Scenic Artist Dhyanis Carniglia. At first glance, one would think the set merely represents a shabby room; however, the movable center contained the scene changes — a train, a taxi, and a bed. There were also obvious exits Stage Right and Stage Left for use by the characters as they walked through the audience and came back onstage. I was expecting “a thriller,” and was delighted to be entertained by a sparkling comedy.
There is a novel and a film entitled The 39 Steps, but the stage version is played for laughs, and one of the ways it achieves this objective is to have all parts played by a very talented cast. The script is full of allusions from Alfred Hitchcock films, including Strangers on a Train, Rear Window, Psycho, Vertigo, and North by Northwest. The concept calls for the entirety of The 39 Steps to be performed by a cast of only four. Three of the actors play 130 roles. This obviously requires lightning- fast changes for their multiple characters, all at once.
One actor plays the hero, John Hannay (Michael Monagle), and Robyn Grahn (an amazing actress) plays the 3 women with whom he has romantic entanglements.
Sean Garahan plays a Clown and Man #1, and Andre Amarotico plays another Clown and Man #2. Together, they essentially play all the other characters in the show – heroes, villains, men, women, children, and even the occasional inanimate object! They are amazing in all their roles with the changes of wigs, mustaches, and hats which, partnered with their accents, provide a theatrical delight.
When The 39 Steps opened on Broadway, in 2008, it was a revelation about how 4 actors with minimal sets and props could create a theatrical experience evoking dozens of characters at numerous locations! In the RVP production, it was stunning how the creativity on stage and the audience imagination could come together to bring this comic suspenseful play to vibrant life in the Ross Valley Players barn.
The plot centers on Hannay, who is falsely accused of murder and is seeking to prove his innocence, as he flees across the Scottish and English countryside. The theme of an innocent man accused of murder is one Hitchcock repeated many times over his illustrious career in the above-mentioned films.
Since the character of John Hannay is on the stage for almost the entire time, the other actors must play all the other characters in the show. With a balance of manners and charm, Monagle plays Hannay as the perfect proper gentleman. While it is mainly a serious role, Monagle adds bits of humor throughout which elicit laughs with his use of facial expressions and glances. As the female lead playing three women, Robyn Grahn changes accents as efficiently as she changes wigs. Her romantic overtures and gestures provide charm and sweetness amongst the humor and intrigue.
Dialect Coach Lynne Soffer is to be commended for her superb work with the British accents. Director Adrian Elfenbaum has a superb touch with the added Sound Design effects by Billie Cox suggesting the era.
Every chase scene and escape from the film, including the train and car scenes take place on stage, using a combination of theatrical magic and only a few set pieces. It’s astonishing to see how a few chairs and the lighting (by Tina Johnson) can come together with one’s imagination to portray a chase on top of a train. The excellent lighting design provides plenty of shadows and light reminiscent of a suspense film. Costume Designer Janice Koprowski has come up with dozens of period costumes, hats, and accompanying pieces to help the audience easily identify the various characters in the play. Additional kudos go to Malcolm Rodgers for the Production Design; to Richard Squeri for the Fight Choreography; to Gregg Le Blanc for photography; and to Publicist Karin Conn.
The 39 Steps is an homage to the master of suspense himself, and any fan of Hitchcock suspense, comedy, spoof, or theatrical imagination, is bound to have a good time with this production. While keeping the cast to only four means the moments of pure insanity, as offered in the original version, are slightly less in the RVP production, it doesn’t detract from the end-result, in the least – and, in many ways, this ambitious Ross Valley Production altogether exceeds expectations. I highly recommend this amazing production to you and your friends for a great time at the Ross Valley Players barn.
The 39 Steps began July 14 and will run through August 20, 2017. Regular performances are scheduled for Thursday 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays 8:00 p.m., and the Sunday Matinees at 2:00 p.m. For tickets to The 39 Steps, go online to www.rossvalleyplayers.com or call 800/838-9555. All performances take place at The Barn, home of the Ross Valley Players, Marin Art and Garden Center, 30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., Ross.
Coming up next starting RVP’s 88th Season, on September 21, 2017, will be the musical Cabaret written by Christopher Isherwood with music by John Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb , directed by James Dunn.