“The 39 Steps,” the latest production of Mammoth Lakes Repertory Theatre, tickles the funnybone throughout the fast-paced farce. The play wields humor to explore Hitchcock techniques—voyeurism, plot twists, and unexpected angles and scene frames—as it follows a mild-mannered fugitive looking for the truth, and who is nearly foiled by a blonde femme fatale.
It is, as the publicity says, an outrageous mix of Hitchcock masterpiece and juicy spy novel, with a dash of Monty Python and an on-stage plane crash, handcuffs, missing fingers, sight gags and a dash of romance thrown in for hilarious measure.
“The 39 Steps” is a two-time Tony Award-winning comedy that was a smash hit on Broadway and in London where it originated. It’s also, says director Shira Dubrovner, the longest running play in recent history.
Written by John Buchan and adapted by Patrick Barlow from an original concept by Simon Corble and Nobby Dimon, the show features three local actors and one Nevadan. Each plays dozens of different characters in this ingenious adaptation of Hitchcock’s classic spy story.
Jesse Steele of Big Pine plays the mild-mannered hero Richard Hannay, who is plunged into a maze of murder, intrigue, and romance in pre-war London. Steele, who we’ve seen recently as Mark Twain and Boo Radley, has fine comedic timing, and consistently delivers lines that bring guffaws from the audience.
Julia Runcie of Bishop plays all the females in the story, from the mysterious woman with a desperate secret that could change the fate of Europe to Hannay’s romantic foil.
Every other character, from strangers on a train to the pilot of a plane flying North by Northwest is played by Clown 1—Greg Klino of Reno and Clown 2—Tim Casey of Mono City. These two crazies deliver uproarious performances, especially as characters on the train Hannay is taking from London to Scotland. Casey plays three characters all at once, jumping wildly from left to right, switching hats and roles like a mad juggler.
Directed with sleight of hand by Shira Dubrovner, the play misses no chance for comedy. “I am very excited to be directing this talented cast in the hilarious play,” said Dubrovner, Artistic Director of the Mammoth Lakes Repertory Theatre. “Ever since I saw a production in Reno several years ago I knew this was a play I wanted to bring to Mammoth to share with locals and visitors alike.”
Costume design is by Pam Bartley and set design by Tim Casey and Karrah Spitznagel based on Dubrovner’s input. “I love the frenetic nature of the show and the period feel of the late ’30s. Based on my experience with comedy, farces in particular, and with an understanding of how the stage at the Edison Theatre can be used,” added Dubrovner, “I think the production team is doing an amazing job of bringing this story to life.”
Every play produced by this local repertory company seems to be better than the one before. Great material, inspired acting, deft direction. I couldn’t help but think of the late Sid Caesar during this play. He’d have laughed his ass off.
“The 39 Steps” runs Thursdays through Saturdays at 7 p.m. and Sundays at 4 p.m. through March 2 at the Edison Theatre. For ticket info, see ad p. 19.