Monday, January 26, 2015

The 39 Steps at Harlequin

John Serembe and Aaron Lamb
Harlequin co-founder and director of The 39 Steps Scot Whitney calls this slapstick melodrama “Monty Python does Hitchcock” — a perfect description.
The play is a comical retelling of the 1935 Alfred Hitchcock film that, we’re told, follows the movie script closely, but is done with only four actors. Richard Hannay (Aaron Lamb) is an English gentleman who is bored to death, but not for long as he gets swept into an espionage caper. Lamb and the other three other actors play a combined 139 characters including men, women and children, with lightning fast costume changes and equally quick prop changes between and in the midst of scenes. Two actors, Jesse Hinds and John Serembe play 135 of those 139 characters. Lamb is the only one who plays only one character, while Alyssa Kay plays the three women in Hannay’s adventure.
Alyssa Kay and Aaron Lamb

Jesse Hinds, John Serembe and Aaron Lamb. All photos courtesy Harlequin Productions.
One of the spies is murdered, and Hannay is accused and must go on the lamb accompanied by and frequently tied up with or handcuffed to one of the women. Complete insanity ensues.
This fast-moving play incorporates practically every comic bit known to stage and screen from Vaudevillian hijinks to silent film techniques to the afore-mentioned Python. It may well be the most physical play I have ever seen as Hannay runs, climbs in and out of windows and doors that drop from the ceiling and fly in from the wings, makes love, climbs across laps in crowded railway cars and runs across the top of a speeding train jumping from car to car — mostly done in a kind of jerky pantomime of silent film action.
Woven into all of this are clever references to other Hitchcock films such as North by Northwest, The Birds and Psycho, mostly done as shadow-show projections with sound effects.
One of the oldest comic bits in the business, and one which never ceases to be funny, is when two people get tied up together in silly ways such as trying to put on a coat and ending up with arms and legs in the wrong sleeves and pant legs. Not afraid to milk the obvious for all it’s worth, Lamb and Kay do numerous versions of this bit through a death scene, a love scene, and climbing out windows while handcuffed together. Their contortions are hilarious, and just watching them wore me out.
Both of these principal actors are outstanding, and Hinds and Serembe show off an awesome ability to look and sound like a whole city full of divergent characters.
Lucy Gentry-Meltzser’s costumes are outstanding, and the dressers and stagehands do such a wonderful job that four of them are brought out for a bow along with the actors at the end of the play, something that rarely happens in theater.
The set by Jeannie Beirne is also inventive and nicely constructed. Mostly it is an empty stage with red curtains and box seats on the wings that look like an old Vaudeville house, and a few props such as trunks and window frames and an easy chair. And a brick wall with a door marked “Way Out.”
If you like Monty Python, the Marx Brothers, Buster Keeton, spy movies and Alfred Hitchcock, by all means get yourself down to Harlequin Production’s The 39 Steps.

WHEN: Thursdays through Saturdays, 8p.m., Sundays 2 p.m. through Feb. 14
WHERE: State Theater, 202 E. 4th Ave., Olympia
TICKETS: prices vary, call for details
INFORMATION: 360-786-0151;

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