Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Guest Review: “39 Steps” Hilarious Mystery Farce at The Barn

By Rick Busciglio (www.njfootlights.net)

The Barn Theatre of Montville, New Jersey is currently presenting the London and Broadway success that spoofs Alfred Hitchcock's first 'man-on-the run' thriller The Thirty-Nine Steps. It was adapted for the stage by Patrick Barlow and based on the 1935 film from the novel by Scottish mystery writer John Buchan (buc-in). (Above: L-R Jonathan Rudolph, Shawna Lagan,  Dann Pryce & Mark Hermann.  Photograph by Tom Schopper)

This production directed by Ron Mulligan is hilarious! It is a mix of the Hitchcock masterpiece with a juicy spy novel, add a dash of Monty Python and you have The 39 Steps, a fast-paced whodunit for anyone who loves the magic of theatre!

This 2-time Tony® and Drama Desk Award-winning treat is packed with nonstop laughs, over 100 zany characters (played by a ridiculously talented cast of 4), an on-stage plane crash, handcuffs, missing fingers and some good old-fashioned romance!  In The 39 Steps, Richard Hannay is the suave lead character in this spy thriller set in pre-World War One England and Scotland. He is leading a boring life until he meets a woman with a thick accent who says she's a spy. When he takes her home to his London flat, she is murdered. Soon, a mysterious organization is hot on the man's trail in a nationwide manhunt that climaxes in a death-defying finale! A riotous blend of virtuoso performances and wildly inventive stagecraft.

Director Mulligan has cast four talented comedy performers. The man-on-the-run Richard Hannay is played to perfection by the properly mustached Dann Pryce (he even resembles Robert Donat the star of the 1935 film). The man-on-the-run comment is no exaggeration. Pryce spends almost the entire play literally running!

No thriller is correct without a lady in distress…sadly in 39 Steps that is the attractive Shawna Lagan (right) as Annabella Schmidt (the woman with the thick accent) saved by Hannay? NO, but murdered... with him as the prime suspect. Don’t fret about Ms. Lagan…she reappears as a randy Scottish Highland farmer’s wife speaking with a proper broad Scottish ‘burr’ accent. (Note: brogue is Irish). Finally, she is the prim and proper English woman, Pamela, that Hannay meets on a train to Scotland. Little does he know that romance is to follow. Shawna Lagan nicely plays these three diverse characters with her tongue planted firmly in her cheek. She demonstrates a fine comedy sense. (Photo by Joe Gigli)

The players with the herculean task of covering all the wacky other roles..both male and female from London stage performers in tux' to Scottish inkeepers (husband and wife!) to international spies and much more are clown #1 Mark Herrmann and Clown #2 Jonathan Rudolph (a Barn vet). They are both excellent broad slap-stick performers ala John Cleese, or maybe more accurately a Marx brother! The clever use of the set, props, sound effects and sight gags in 39 Steps provides many of the belly-laughs that this fast-paced fun event delivers. (Above, left: Mark Hermann, Jonathan Rudolph & Dann Pryce. Photo by Joe Gigli)

Just what are the 39 steps? Why is Hannay on the run? How does he prove his innocence? Who is the man with the partial finger? Does he get the girl?

Sorry, you'll have to visit the Barn Theatre no later than April 8th to find out. When you do, don't blink or you will miss some of the screwball fun. The play with one intermission runs about two hours. Warning: there are several gunshots, flashing strobe lights and a man wears a kilt.

Also, note the very clever use of recorded music...all from Hitchcock thrillers. Listen also for subtle mentions of his film titles.

The excellent ringmaster (a/k/a director) of this wild, zany comedy is Ron Mulligan. His production team includes: scenic designer Lawrence Gabriel; lighting designer Cheryl Wibur; costume designer Linda Spirko; sound designer Larry Wilbur; production stage manager Craig Zimmerman; properties Marie Bogert; lighting operation Chris Reynolds; and sound operation Omar Kozarsky.

If we were to reduce our review to a few words we would turn to the old Scottish phrase, "Hoot mon, this is grrreat!"

WHEN:  Friday, March 30, 2018 at 8pm
Saturday, March 31, 2018 at 8pm
Friday, April 6, 2018 at 8pm
Saturday, April 7, 2018 at 8pm
Sunday, April 8, 2018 at 2pm

WHERE: The Barn Theatre is located on Skyline Drive in Montville, NJ, just minutes off Exit 47 from Route 287.

For reservations, information or directions, call The Barn Theatre Box Office at (973) 334-9320, or visit The Barn Theatre on the web at www.barntheatre.org