Adapted by Patrick Barlow
From the novel by John Buchan
From the movie of Alfred Hitchcock
Directed by David New
At Drury Lane Oakbrook Theatre
Cast never misses a step on this tricky staircase
Even more amazing than seeing four characters enact 140 parts, is realizing just how brilliantly they accomplish this Herculean task. In actuality, Peter Simon Hilton plays only one part — but it is a biggie, demanding his consummate acting skill. Ever present on stage, he portrays stereotypically British Robert Hannay, a 37-year-old innocent who is swept into exposing an evil spy ring after mysterious, sensuous vamp Annabella Schmidt is murdered in his apartment. Angela Ingersoll not only plays sultry Schmidt with enormous verve, but also successfully takes on two additional female roles: a winsome Scottish farm wife and Hannay’s ultimate feisty love interest.
However, the brunt of all the shifts of costume, stance, accent, and presentation lies with Jeff Dumas and Paul Kalina, listed far too generically in the program as Clown 1 and Clown 2. How easily they morph between colorful roles: policemen, traveling lingerie salesmen, a milkman, a newsboy, a cleaning woman, a train conductor, politicians, secret agents, Scottish husband and wife innkeepers, — and more — constantly and easily moving between costume changes and genders as often on stage as off — right before the eyes of the entire audience. What great timing. It’s magical.
The plot is a witty, outrageous, madcap romp based on a straightforward 1915 thriller by John Buchan and an even more famous dashing, 1935 spy film by Alfred Hitchcock, which set the standard for characters on the run who avoid capture by a hairsbreadth and end up proving their own innocence. The term for this is monomyth — where an ordinary man enters an unfamiliar world filled with almost insurmountable challenges and survives to return to the ordinary. This classic plot line of innumerable books and films is enhanced to nearly manic proportions by Patrick Barlow’s stage adaptation and wonderfully choreographed physical comedy which challenges the cast’s strength and athletic ability. Every moment is played with comic finesse, and the production meets each plot hurdle — including a brilliant one where Hannay is forced to flee along the top of a moving train, and to jump from a trestle bridge — with a minimum of props and a huge dose of resourceful, imaginative staging.
The 39 Steps deservedly won two Tonies in 2008 and this production is equally award worthy. Not to be missed.
Beverly Friend, Ph.D.
Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace, 630-530-0111, www. drurylaneoakbrook.com. Tickets $35-$46. Wednesdays at 1:30 p.m., Thursdays at 1:30 and 8 p.m., Fridays at 8:30 p.m., Saturdays at 5 and 8:30 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. through August 26.