In my past trips to CLO’s Cabaret Theater, I’ve seen a fast-paced farce (Boeing-Boeing) and a cutie pie musical (First Date) that both featured casts running around playing multiple characters. With their new production of The 39 Steps, CLO Cabaret has brought those same elements onto their stage once more. It’s becoming clear to me that quick speeds and fun times are the Cabaret’s forte, and this new summer production (and the announcement of next year’s season) promises to keep the good times coming.
From what I’ve researched (on Wikipedia), the novel Thirty-nine Steps was adapted (loosely) into a movie by Alfred Hitchcock, which in turn was adapted (even more loosely) into a stage play. The story is about an Englishman named Richard Hanney who stumbles his way into a dangerous criminal adventure, full of shady characters and thrilling situations. While the book and movie probably had a more serious tone, the play goes a different direction and turns the story into a bizarre and fast-moving comedic affair. It’s sort of like “Monty Python presents” The 39 Steps.
The barebones set consists of two rotating columns that have a couple of doors (to run through!) a window, and other appendages. Furniture and props are dragged onstage as they’re needed or, in some cases, they arrive intentionally late for a laugh (with the actors grumbling at each other that someone “forgot” something). There is ample room to run around and that’s exactly what the cast and crew do. Two of the actors (Luke Halferty and Quinn Patrick Shannon, credited as “Clowns”) play all the supporting roles, a feat that requires them to constantly be moving and at times create conversations between three or four characters. With a quick turn and the changing of a hat they become someone else. It’s quite the gauntlet to run for any character actor, and Mr. Halferty and Mr. Shannon prove themselves to be two of the better ones in town.
Allan Snyder is seemingly onstage 99% of the time as Hannay, playing the befuddled and cranky straightman to the bizarre characters and insane situations that befall him. Megan Pickrell plays a trio of women that Hannay encounters along his travels. There are so many characters, but so much work has gone into making them totally unique. It goes beyond simply changing the pitch or accent of the voice; each character just has a way that they inhabit the stage. It’s like a giant orchestral score that establishes both how the characters should talk but also how they should sound. Some are funny, some are serious, some are intimidating, and some are downright weird. But they all flow together wonderfully to form a solid, if silly, story.
The show begins to play out like a sketch show with one central character tying the pieces together, and there are a ton of great gags. If a character asks for something to eat it is thrown at them from offstage. There are Hitchcock references everywhere, like acknowledging a “Rear Window” or spotting the director’s famous silhouette. The most tiring gag (and I want to say the most British?) is the constant repeating of lines between characters, but it at least builds tension for when the plot rushes forward again.
The CLO has busted out another fun gem to inhabit their Cabaret for the next few months, and I would suggest giving The 39 Steps a checking out. The cast and crew once again work exceptionally well together to create a solid production that is pulled off without hardly a Hitch.
The 39 Steps
Presented by Pittsburgh CLO
Directed by Guy Stroman
Written by Patrick Barlow (adaption), John Buchan (novel), Alfred Hitchcock (film)
Designed by Tony Ferrieri (scenery), Stephanie Shaw (costumes), Andrew David Ostrowski (lighting), Bob Bollman (sound)
Starring Luke Halferty (Clown), J. Alex Noble (understudy), Megan Pickrell (Annabella, Margaret, Pamela), Quinn Patrick Shannon (Clown), Allan Snyder (Richard Hannay), Kelly Trumbull (understudy)
Special thanks to the CLO for complimentary press tickets. For tickets and more information, click here.