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.
THE 39 STEPS
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