Megan Knowlton Balne and Thomas Balne star in Haddonfield Plays and Players' THE 39 STEPS. (Photo credit: David Gold)

39 STEPS to Fun at Haddonfield

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Real-life married couple, Megan Knowlton Balne and Thomas Balne, star in THE 39 STEPS, running at Haddonfield Plays and Players through June 22. (Photo credit: David Gold)

Real-life married couple, Megan Knowlton Balne and Thomas Balne, star in THE 39 STEPS, running at Haddonfield Plays and Players through June 22. (Photo credit: David Gold)

It took a lot of people to create the present version of THE 39 STEPS, now at Haddonfield Plays and Players. It was adapted by Patrick Barlow from a mystery novel by John Buchan, a movie directed by Alfred Hitchcock, and an original four-actor concept by Simon Corble and Nobby Dimon. It was Barlow who came up with the idea of making it into a zany comedy a la Monty Python.

The play is directed at a breakneck pace, as it should be, by Jeanne Gold. Tommy Balne plays Richard Hannay, who goes to a vaudeville theatre to ease his boredom and meets an exotic woman called Annabella Schmidt, who speaks (and often screeches) in an outlandish accent. She is played by Megan Knowlton Balne, Tommy’s real-life wife, who also plays other women in his life. She claims to be a member of a spy organization called The 39 Steps. It isn’t clear exactly what happens when he takes her to his home except that he wakes up to find her dead, obviously murdered. Afraid that he will be accused of killing her, he flees to various places in England and Scotland—often on a train, a typical Hichcock device. Along the way he encounters all sorts of characters—over 100 of them, played by two remarkable young men, Jake Hufner and Eli Wood. They are required to make lightning-quick costume changes, often seeming to be in two places at once.

These four excellent actors perform among ingenious set pieces that suggest trains, bridges, bedrooms, living rooms and so forth, plus a conveniently movable door. Costumes, lighting and sound also contribute much to the production.

If there is one complaint, it is that the English and Scottish accents and the occasional screaming (or screeching?) sometimes make the dialogue difficult to understand. But this is probably nit-picking. The first-night audience definitely had fun, and so will you.

by Patrick Barlow, Simon Corble and Nobby Dimon
Directed by Jeanne Gold
June 9-22, 2013
Haddonfield Plays and Players
957 E. Atlantic Avenue
Haddonfield, NJ 08033
(856) 429-8139

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Jessica Martin

Jessica Martin

Jessica Martin is a retired production editor for medical, nursing and allied health books. Her last employer was F. A. Davis in Philadelphia. She has been active in community theatre for more that 40 years, mostly with the Village Playbox of Haddon Heights, New Jersey. She has also appeared at the Ritz Theatre in Haddon Township, Merchantville Playcrafters and Haddonfield Plays and Players. Favorite roles include Lucy in Dracula (a long time ago!), Delia in Bedroom Farce, Clairee in Steel Magnolias and Martha in Arsenic and Old Lace. She trained at The Dramatic Workshop (an offshoot of Actors’ Studio), The Philadelphia Theatre Company and Walnut Street Theatre School. She has also written plays, some of which were presented by Penn Players at her alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania, and the Ritz Theatre. With her late husband, Jim Martin, she reviewed plays for The Speedliner, a newspaper distributed to riders of the PATCO High Speed Line.

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