Review: 'The 39 Steps' | Rock Candy

Monday, June 13, 2011

Review: 'The 39 Steps'

Posted By on Mon, Jun 13, 2011 at 1:05 PM


Perhaps there will be a few theatergoers who won't appreciate the current production of "The 39 Steps" at the Arkansas Repertory Theatre. It is, after all, an adaptation of a mostly forgotten Alfred Hitchcock film and mostly done so for laughs. When translated to the stage, the inherent silliness of the story &emdash; an ordinary British bachelor caught up in an absurdly complicated spy ring &emdash; is the primary attraction. The Rep’s production, directed by Bob Hupp, delivers the silliness with expert flair and even generates an emotional connection. But maybe there are some in the audience expecting and wanting more meat on their theatrical bones.

This group has to be in tiny minority because "The 39 Steps" is like theatrical champagne &emdash; it's bright, fizzy and will lift your spirits. The trick at the center in which four actors play a cast of a hundreds and create on stage what only makes sense to film (such as a chase on top of a speeding train) is a trick &emdash; but one that’s a seemingly endless fountain of fun. And, while "The 39 Steps" is quite funny, the most notable attribute is how much fun it is to watch. It will put and keep a smile on your face.

The race begins with dapper, pencil-mustached Richard Hanney (played by Avery Clark) bemoaning to the audience of his boring life in London and the endless newspaper talk of war. He needs a diversion, something trivial, "I know. I’ll go to the theater!" he exclaims to great guffaws. There are many more knowing winks to the audience to come.

Of course Hanney is almost instantly delivered from his boredom and into the arms of the beautiful but mysterious Annabelle Schmidt (the first of three roles for Nikki Coble), who talks of secrets, Scotland and then falls over dead with a knife in her back. On the run, Hanney bumps into and flees from a legion of characters, all of them played by Jason Guy (Clown #1) or Jason Collins (Clown #2). All of the crazy action is played out on Mike Nichols' striking but spare set that’s pretty much a gold frame for a proscenium stage complete with a eye-catching purple curtain. '

The actors transport us to the speeding train, the Scottish mansion, a runaway car and elsewhere with the help of lights and a few props and their tremendous skill. The clowns are the ones who literally due the heavy lifting (including a lamppost in one of the play’s best gags) but the pair are graceful and precise as ballet dancers. Only in a few spots did it seem like Guy and Collins go too broad (the couple that runs the hotel, for instance), but that was rare.

Clark has the straight man role but he's smart and intuitive and so doesn’t miss many chances for finding laughs. For proof, check out the way he falls asleep. Really, Clark effortlessly captures and keeps the attention thrown his way. The Rep has benefited greatly from his presence this season (he was the lead in "Hamlet") and would do well to find him more rolls. But those who haven’t had the chance or are in the mood for a sweet night in theater need to check out "The 39 Steps."

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Sign up for the Daily Update email


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Werner Trieschmann

  • 'Disfarmer': behind the camera

    The strange case of Arkansas photographer Disfarmer, subject of a new play opening this weekend.
    • Sep 25, 2014
  • Live Review: Eric Church and Dwight Yoakam at Verizon

    Apparently Dwight Yoakam’s acting career is sufficiently slack enough that Friday night saw him opening for bro-country kingpin Eric Church at Verizon Arena. Hollywood is taking Yoakam in small enough doses (he has a recurring part on CBS’s “Under the Dome”) that he can lend his considerable talents to country music, which currently can use any kind of flavor it can get.
    • Sep 15, 2014
  • Musical 'Shrek' succeeds, mostly

    If light family entertainment is your speed.
    • Nov 2, 2011
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • Coming Monday: Little Rock Black Restaurant Week

    MoTown Monday is Ceci's Chicken and Waffles. Tasty Tuesday is Sims BBQ and Brewster's Soul Food Cafe. Wing Wednesday is Chicken King and Chicken Wangs. Soul Food Thursday is Lindsey's BBQ and Hospitality House and Food Truck Festival Friday is @station801. It's the first Black Restaurant Week.
    • Mar 8, 2017
  • New music from Isaac Alexander

    New music from Isaac Alexander.
    • Jul 14, 2017
  • No Small Talk Ep. 8: Katy Henriksen, Springs Arts preview

    A packed episode this week of "No Small Talk": a chat with Katy Henriksen, from Of Note on KUAF; Stephanie Smittle breaks down the Spring Arts issue; and we finish up with just a tiny bit of Oscar chatter.
    • Mar 9, 2018

© 2018 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation