NextStop Theatre The 39 StepsBy David Siegel • Oct 1st, 2013 • Category: Reviews
Next Stop Theatre Company: (Info) (Web)
Industrial Strength Theater, Herndon, VA
Through October 20th
2:15 with one intermission
Reviewed September 29th, 2013
Ushering itself in as the newest professional theater troupe in the Northern Virginia area, NextStop Theatre hits the boards with a breezy, playful nod to Alfred Hitchcock in its rendition of The 39 Steps.
Full of frenetic comedy sketches woven together as a take-off on an early film noir classic, The 39 Steps employs four actors in over 140 vastly different roles and impressions that require quick changes and energy levels that must involve a plenitude of caffeine before the performance. The production never takes itself too seriously in its anarchist salute: making mincemeat of Hitchcock’s penchance for whodunits having a wrongly accused man forced on the run.
Knowing old Hitchcock movies can be helpful, but it is far from necessary to enjoy The 39 Steps gags. Loving nostalgia and being in the mood for silliness and lots of ham by an engaging cast is the right mind-set for this escapist fare. The show was adapted by British comedian and playwright Patrick Barlow in 2005 from an original novel by John Buchan (1875-1940) and the later Hitchcock 1935 movie. The play came to America and Broadway in 2008 and won two Tony Awards.
So, what’s it all about? It is August, 1935. An unflappable Richard Hannay, while in London seeing some theater ends up trying to help prevent an organization of spies (the 39 Steps) from stealing top-secret information that would do harm to England. A counter-espionage agent is killed in his apartment and Hannay finds himself accused of the murder. He goes on the run, with a comely woman in involuntary tow, moving about England and Scotland. On their travels, they meet their share of high-speed chases, mistaken identities, close surveillance, and more murder. And, of course, a romance is kindled. Phew.
Director Hoffmann has cast a likeable quartet of actors to give audiences their share of laughter, giggles, and cheese. And that is the purpose of The 39 Steps; to take the audience away from the hum-drum and stresses of everyday real life. Under Hoffmann’s direction, the hard-working cast gives over to a merry chase, milking things at times, and breaking the theater’s Fourth Wall to bring the audience fully aboard. Most scenes are ready for prime-time, but, for some sketch scenes, pruning would do to reduce what can seem long-winded.
For the key role of the “keep calm and carry on” leading man, there is James Finley. He was most recently in Keegan Theater’s A Few Good Men. As in any good leading man in the 1930’s he has a pencil moustache, can hold his body in a “stiff upper lip manner” yet speaks his dialogue with the requisite jaunty air. His mild “Canadian” accent doesn’t falter and he never seemed out of control no matter what is happening. Most importantly, he presents himself with classy demeanor as the comic characters revolve around him.
Nick Rose, clown 2, plays an untold number of characters: usually those of a more nefarious nature, those requiring strong accents, and the ability to grin “with” the audience. He is adept at playing his most repellant characters for snickers. But, at times, his characters stay too long and laughter subsides into more soft, quiet grins. Originally from the Herndon area and involved in the founding of the Elden Street Players some twenty-five years ago, Rose is now working with the professional Cincinnati Shakespeare Company.
Evan Crump, clown 1, is known to local audience for taking on off-center, unusual characters and often enough female roles with delight. He is doing so again. That is a wonderful thing. A recent example was his work with 1st Stage as Madame Arcati in Blithe Spirit. Crump is inspired as he plays for full whimsy, in a deadpan manner. He inhabits a character, rather than mocking or being derisive. He is just that character. This is no easy feat.
Crump and Rose together play a cornucopia of characters from a man with a photographic memory, to traveling lingerie salesmen on a train, train conductors, an evil professor, milkman, newsboy, cleaning woman, infirmed politicians to name a few. They also have some spiffy efforts as husband and wife. Their work requires them to quickly don costumes designed by Jenny O’Donnell including changing hats, clothing, and wigs.
Emily Levey plays several vastly different women characters including a secret agent and then Pamela, the growing love interest for Finley even though she does not at first believe in his innocence. She has expressive eyes and body language, especially when showing exasperation and belligerence. For this reviewer, one of her high points was in the crash of a toy airplane; it was just childlike delight. Overall Levey comes off as cutely feisty rather than sensual in her moments with Finley. Levey has appeared in local theater companies such as Keegan, Signature and Studio.
The set design by James Villarubia takes advantage of the interior space of the Industrial Strength Theater venue. It is transformed into the MGM studio prop room. There is an industrial look with well-stuffed shelves brimming with detritus that will be used in the production. There are hidden away areas, a second story and even a well-used exit door marked “no exit.” It is all contrived so that as the actors make their way across England, the moors, Scotland and various interior rooms, the audience is on the conceits. A scene of escaping from a moving train composed of a few crates is splendid.
Sound design by Stan Harris is on the nose. He has found and uses to lovely advantage the music of Hitchcock’s favorite composer, Bernard Hermann. Little snippets of themes from “North by NorthWest”, “Psycho”, ” Rear Window,” and more are there to make audiences prick up their ears in recognition.
So if you are ready for good-hearted chuckles, knowing glances, bright smiles or escapist merriment in a kind-of “no time to think” amusing caper, then The 39 Steps at Herndon’s new NextStop Theater is for you.
Photos by Rebekah Purcell
- Richard Hannay: James Finley
- Annabella/Pamela/Margaret: Emily Levey
- Clown 1: Evan Crump
- Clown 2: Nick Rose
- Hair/Makeup: Kat Brais
- Lighting Designer: AnnMarie Castrigno
- Assistant Sound Designer: Brian Christiansen
- Production Manager: Susan d Garvey
- Sound Design: Stan Harris
- Director/Producing Artistic Director: Even Hoffman
- Props Designer: Keven Laughon
- Co-stage Manager: Laura Moody
- Scenic Painter: Katie Nigsch-Fairfax
- Costume Design: Jenny O’Donnell
- Technical Director: David Phelps
- Co-stage Manager: Alexis J. Rose
- Scenic Designer: James Villarrubia
Disclaimer: Next Stop Theatre Company provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/9784.
David Siegel is a freelance theater reviewer and features writer whose work appears on ShowBizRadio, in the Connection Newspapers and the Fairfax Times. He is a judge in the Helen Hayes Awards program. He is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and volunteers with the Arts Council of Fairfax County. David has been associated with theater in the Washington, DC area for nearly 30 years. He served as Board President, Alexandria's American Showcase Theater Company (now Metro Stage) and later with Arlington's American Century Theater as both a member of the Executive Board and as Marketing Director. You can follow David's musings on Twitter @pettynibbler.