Step by step, flinch by flinch, “The 39 Steps” is a romping Hichcockian mystery, laced with vaudevillian mirth, requiring precise timing and awesome versatility … and wholly enacted by a remarkable company of four.
A true ensemble piece, Manoa Valley Theatre’s staging of Patrick Barlow’s adaptation of John Buchan’s novel and Alfred Hitchcock’s film, is full of belly laughs, high energy, quick pacing, breathless antics and theatrical shenanigans that may make you flinch, groan and cheer. As directed by Rob Duval, the production utilizes a minimalist set by Andrew Doan that involves a theatrical proscenium arch with closable curtain and seating boxes at both stage left and right, slamming doors, and a scrim that enables moments of giddy shadow puppetry. The versatile props by La Tanya Faamausill-Siliato include oversized trunks that serve as tables as well as train seats. In short: non-stop groans and giggles, with efficient surroundings.
It’s a short run, however; “The 39 Steps” opened Thursday (March 17) and closes March 27, so you have today (March 20) and the upcoming weekend to catch the laughs.
The characters are Richard Hannay (a steadfast Garrett Hols, nimble and agile, confident and comedic), a somewhat bored London bachelor who meets a shapely Annabella Schmidt (Rachel League, versatile and mobile, whose other roles are Pamela and Margaret, achieved with wigs and costume changes and perhaps some tongue in cheek.. She is killed in his presence in a hilarious demise, but not before she recites a few clues, and he dispatches himself to Scotland as a potential murderer attempting to prove his innocence. (Kinda like Dr. Richard Kimble, played by David Janssen on the old TV serial, “The Fugitive,” dodging his pursuers of a crime he did not commit. But waaaaaay funnier).
A pair of workhorses, Matthew Miller and Andrew Baker, designated as Clown 1 and Clown 2, respectively, enact a barrel full of more roles than imaginable, from constables to London Palladium emcees/comedians, from bad-wigged women to train ticket-takers. Kudos and ovations, dudes, for turning bit parts into a mammoth tidal wave of guffaws.
The physical comedy is amazing, notably the sequence where Hannay is aboard a train and in pursuit by Miller and Baker; the gents have a raucous and remarkable imaginary “chase,” with hands and bodies supposedly dangling from the outside of the train car whisking on its tracks, and another dangerous venture on a ladder attached to two other ladders, requiring strenuous energy (and risks of tumbling down) by the gents, and grand imagination from the spectators.
All this, with the actors even employing the Brit accent for credibility amid the maze of the unexpected.
Tickets: $22 to $40 at www.manoavalleytheatre.com or (808) 988-6131…
And that’s Show Biz. …