“39 Steps” is now in its third incarnation in the south Puget Sound that we’ve seen. All versions are based on the novel by John Buchan. The Hitchcock-directed movie classic is first, starring Robert Donat and Madeleine Carrol. That production is a serious murder and spy drama with the traditional Hitchcock twists and flair. There are some moments of humor, but it’s a tense spy thriller from the first scene. We meet 37 year-old Richard Hannay, the bored, former Army officer, back after years abroad. He knows he has no serious purpose in life and decides to go to the music hall for distraction. There he meets Annabella Schmidt, the catalyst to the action.
The second production we saw at Seattle Repertory Theatre. It was very stylized and utilized all the scenes important in H’s movie. Now it has only four actors playing all the characters, men and women and some questionable people in between.
The third version we just saw at Centerstage, just into King County, over the line separating Federal Way and Pierce County. Since it was based on Barlow’s adaption, the same convention was employed: only Robert Bergin played just one character, Richard Hannay. The other three actors, Marianna De Fazio, Vince Brady and Erik Gratton, played all the many other characters. Bergin was an able Hannay but didn’t seem to be completely comfortable in his character and the precise timing needed.
De Fazio, whom we had seen as Madeline Basset in “Jeeves in Bloom” at Taproot, as well as Theatre Schmeater’s Noel Coward play “Fallen Angels”, plays Annabella Schmidt, the mysterious East-European woman who’s murdered in Hannay’s apartment, Pamela, the proper young woman pressed into helping Hannay, and Margaret, the attractive, young, nubile wife of an aging Highland crofter. Hannay seeks shelter at their isolated croft home. De Fazio is very precise in all her roles. You can tell she has talent and training.
Clowns 1 and 2, who perform all the other roles, are played by Vince Brady and Erik Gratton. They are really fun and add to the quick pace expected in a farce. They seem to be really enjoying the quick action and the humor.
Having never seen Vince Brady before, I’ll certainly be looking for him in other productions. Brady was a genuine scream as the aging crofter, the Scots hotelier and the spy Jordan’s wife. Brady’s astuteness in the particular tilt of head and attitude bring the characters to life. As Jordon’s wife, he seemed the epitome of the horsey, very proper middle class woman married to a man of means. His rubbery, hyper-expressive face was greatly employed as a comic foil.
I particularly enjoyed Gratton as the Highland hotelier’s wife. He comes out on his knees with slippers sticking out from his knee pads, looking as if he were a 4 foot 8 inch woman who’s in love with the idea of love. He was the introducer of Mr. Memory, the pivot of solving the mystery and so many other people.
We’ve seen Gratton before in Centerstage’s annual holiday Panto “Cinderella” playing Buttons, the hinge of the action. They had a very good time being silly and are very good at it. Both clowns were memorable.
The costumer Julie Evanovich did a masterful job of creating, borrowing or making the many costumes and suggestions of costumes for the myriad characters. Hats were the identifier for the minor characters, and more extensive additions were used to simulate a more complex costume. They all suited individual person played. The wigs added a satiric, hyperbolic finish to the character’s life. The swift changes made the character count feel like a hundred.
The set was virtually a black box. Wonderful business was added with the movable door and window, demonstrating access and egress just by turning the door or window around. The rest of the furnishings were minimal, with all actors taking pieces off and bringing them on as their characterers come on and off the stage.
I did feel the pace needed to be a bit quicker, and maybe cut some of the repeated motions to milk laughter. The audience consisted of mostly older people and a few young ones. The younger members seemed to enjoy the play more.
“39 Steps” runs through October 30 and is worth seeing for the quick changes and characterizations; it’s appropriate for all ages .For tickets and information, call 253-661-1444, or, go online at email@example.com.