Theater Review: “The 39 Steps”
Frank Creasy, Steve King, K Strong, and Dan Stackhouse in 39 Steps. Photo by Robyn O’Neill.
Swift Creek Mill’s “The 39 Steps” begins with a hearty laugh.
Artistic director Tom Width walks out on stage, before the start of the show, announcing they’ve bought a new fog machine with “brand new fog juice — no gym sock fragrance!”
I laughed out loud, thinking “what a promising start to this show,” and quickly noting the quote in my playbill. Tom Width is funny. (And it’s true; I didn’t smell a scent of sweaty smoke during any foggy scene.)
Except, his cheeky joke was the most I laughed all evening. Barely a chuckle came out during Act I, and certainly not Act II. It didn’t help either that the gentleman behind me breathed liked he was snoring, or the lady to my right crackled like a hyena, but it did help that the three patrons immediately in front of me left at intermission because I could see the stage better, myself being only 5’9” and seated in the back row.
My companion, a theater critic in her 20s like me, commented that the production felt like a “Johnny Carson variety show” that was way too hokey, and not enough campy. I eagerly agreed, thinking good thing Alfred Hitchcock is more well-known for his movies.
We both agreed that the set, designed by Tom Width, appears to have been created for one scene, in which Richard Hannay (Dan Stackhouse), the show’s protagonist, runs away atop a moving train from two Scotland Yard officers, but it’s utilitarian. Joe Doran’s lighting creates silhouettes of planes firing down on Hannay after the chase atop the train.
K Strong in all her three roles was evanescent for me; Frank Creasy and Steve King play the “Clown 1″ and “Clown 2″ duo, impressing me with their ability to change costumes and characters so rapidly. Stackhouse engaged me the most with his soap box speech, campaigning for Mr. McCorquodale, but the rest of his performance disinterested me. (Stackhouse really can play an impassioned politician with credibility.)
Many audience members did laugh, but many others certainly did not. For me, Patrick Barlow’s adaptation didn’t work; for you, it just might, being the perfect dramatization of a Hitchcock film.
If you do happen to make it over to Swift Creek and eat dinner there before the show, make sure you get the dinner rolls — they are lush and doughy, I enjoyed them thoroughly.
“The 39 Steps” runs through March 3rd, 2012 at Swift Creek Mill Theatre. For more information or to purchase tickets, please visit http://www.swiftcreekmill.com/
Matthew Miller is the former arts editor and chief theater critic for GAYRVA.com. A Chicago native, he holds a B.A. from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He currently resides in Richmond, VA and is a member of the Richmond Theatre Critics Circle. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Matthew Miller on Twitter twitter.com/matthewkmiller
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