THE 39 STEPS, the 4th production of Bootless Stageworks’ ‘13-14 season, is nothing if not ambitious. Based on the 1935 Alfred Hitchcock film of the same name, the play is essentially a parody of the melodramatic murder mystery told from the point-of-view of the number one suspect, Richard Hannay. The 120 minute play mirrors the film almost exactly, with a twist: every character in the movie, including the extras, are played by just four actors. Bootless stuck to tradition with the roles — One male actor (Josh Innerst) plays the main character Hannay throughout (the only one in a single-character role), one female actor (Sarah Joy Stone) plays Hannay’s three female romantic interests, and two male actors (Shaun Yates and Michael Gamache), billed as Clowns 1 and 2, play every other character, male and female. Sometimes, they play two or more characters who appear on stage at the same time. Sometimes the characters speak to each other or interrupt each other. That’s the fun of it, really.
In addition to the minimalist cast. THE 39 STEPS also has a minimalist set largely comprised of four wooden boxes that are used to create everything from a train to a podium to a car. The St. Stephen’s Church location offers plenty of room, with scenes taking place both on the raised stage and on the floor in front of the audience. With the exception of an old-fashioned telephone, time and place (England and Scotland in the 1930s) are represented by costuming, and, of, course acting, including a variety of accents.
Stone, in arguably the most challenging (because they’d be easy to dismiss as less important) roles, brings lots of life to her characters, even as a corpse, never letting herself be sidelined by the sometimes over-the-top scenarios and performances around her. Innerst is perfect for the role of Hannay — he’s got the movie star looks called for, but more than that, he puts you in the scene. This is a play that breaks the 4th wall more than once, and he’s able to shift from actor moving set pieces to character in an outdoor scene far from the stage. As Clowns 1 and 2, Yates and Gamache demonstrate the skills needed to play dozens of characters (and they’re hilarious, too). This show really belongs to the Clowns more than to the leads, so they have to be good. And yes, over-the-top, which they both delivered.
With references to Hitchcock movies galore and a plot that you won’t likely guess if you haven’t seen the movie (and if you have, you’ll be doubly impressed at how the whole thing is pulled off with a micro cast), THE 39 STEPS continues to confirm Bootless’ commitment to putting on high-quality shows in all kinds of spaces. If you want a fun, no-stress follow-up to a busy, Flower Market-filled Mother’s Day weekend, this show runs through May 17.
THE 39 STEPS
Adapted by Patrick Barlow
From the novel by John Buchan and the movie of Alfred Hitchcock
Directed by Rosanne DellAversano, Michael Gamache & Shaun Yates
May 9 – 17, 2014
St. Stephen’s Church
1301 N. Broom St.
Wilmington, DE 19806