‘The 39 Steps’ steps up the laughs

by Josselyn Molina

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The jaded Richard Hannay (David S. Humphrey) is left on the run when sensual Agent Anabella Smith (San Diego State alumna Kelsey Venter) is fatally stabbed in his flat after warning him about a national security breach happening in the near future. While this might sound like a disturbing premise, the play, “The 39 Steps,” is actually a gag-a-minute comedy. The story was originally adapted by Patrick Barlow from the intense Alfred Hitchcock movie.

The story begins with lonely 37-year-old Richard longing for some significance in his life, which suddenly appears after distraught Annabella urges to come home with him after she fired a shot in the theatrical performance, “Mr. Memory.” Back at his flat, Richard discovers the true nature of the mysterious woman in black: Annabella is a spy trying to stop a national security breach. Intrigued, Richard allows her to spend the night only to be woken by her screaming, “Oh Richard!” as she comically squirms and stiffly dies in his lap with his knife in her back. Richard is left to prove his innocence by finding Annabella’s friend, Professor Jordan, the one man who can answer his questions and deem him innocent of Annabella’s death.

Richard escapes in a milkman uniform, determined to find the true meaning of what Annabella said were “the 39 steps.” Throughout his travels, Richard is forced into a life of adventure, hiding and running from the authorities, meeting plenty of characters along the way, including a milkman, a paperboy, a cleaning lady, a train conductor, politicians, policemen and hotel-keepers, all of which were played by actors Jesse Abeel and Ron Choularton. Quick costume changes allowed for the two actors to become different characters in an instant, making the show a comedic success. Along with costume, sound and lighting design, the actors were able to freely work with the simple stage design and really bring the audience’s imagination to life.

Moved from the Lamb’s Players Theater, “The 39 Steps” is now being showcased at the Horton Grand Theatre downtown with the direction of Deborah Gilmour Smyth, who has admirably harmonized the thrill, suspense and comedy of the play. The production captures the human needs of love, adventure and truth, but also allows the audience to reflect upon their own human experience in a humorous way.

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Photo courtesy of Ken Jacques

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