“The Thirty-Nine Steps” began in 1915 as a serial spy story in an English magazine. Then came a book. This was followed by a Hitchcock movie in 1935, each version slightly or greatly altered. Over time it had evolved from serous adventure story to madcap farce, and that’s what we have on this stage. This current stage version was adapted by Patrick Barlow in 2005 and originally produced in England. It later became an award-winning Broadway show. It’s madcap farce involving myriad characters all played by the same four talented actors. Does it work? Well, if you love farce (or as the theatre calls it “creative meyhem”), indeed it does. If farce is not your thing, the show is labored and goes on too long.
Director Matt Walker has had his challenges. Imagine casting a play where all but one of your four actors must play a number of roles, each involving different costumes, sometimes different accents, always different persona. To add to the challenges, frequently the role changes must be accomplished in very few minutes.
Aaron Lamb, as our hero, evokes our pity and astonishment as he successfully evades disaster and comes up smiling. Emily Cawley has the versatility to play three roles with frequent interchanges. And Orion Bradshaw and Chris Ensweiler have too many roles to even recount—from gangster to cop, from farmer to shepherd. The roles demand enormous versatility and even acrobatic prowess.
Our hero is perhaps not as bright as he ought to be, but he’s bright enough to get entangled with a beautiful blonde. In this case their entanglement begins when they unwittingly are handcuffed to one another. One of the funniest scenes in the show is their effort to extricate themselves from that predicament.
There’s an extra special reward for Hitchcock fans here. Be on the lookout for sly references to famous Hitchcock films. What’s the crop dusting plane doing? And those birds? And is there a Bates Motel in this English countryside? There are others so see how many you recognize.
This is a skillful production, but I must repeat, if you are not a fan is this fast paced, deliberately silly genre, this may not be your fare.
Through Feb. 26 at the Francis J. Gaudette Theatre, 303 Front St. N., Issaquah, and from March 3 to March 26 at the Everett Performing Arts Center, 2710 Wetmore Ave., Everett, 425-257-8600 or VillageTheatre.org.