Weathervane Playhouse’s “The 39 Steps” chock full of laughs

Arts / Article

Weathervane Playhouse’s “The 39 Steps.”

Patrick Barlow went for the gusto when he decided to script a play based on the famous Alfred Hitchcock film “The 39 Steps,” which was itself taken from an earlier novel. The result is a frantic, fun, zany spoof that Weathervane Playhouse, a Knight Arts grantee, plays fully for the many laughs the plot and characters produce.

The play was written for a cast of four characters, and in that lies some of the fun. One actor plays the lead, Richard Hannay (played by Richard Worswick), while an actress (Bridget Chebo) plays the three women he falls in love with (itself a weird plot twist), and two other actors (Scott K. Davis and Brian O. Jackson) play all the rest of the characters – men, women, children, animals, and now and then a lamp or two. One of them even doubles for Hitchcock himself, who always appeared surreptitiously in his films (it is done very cleverly in this production, and garnered some well-deserved howls of its own).

The plot’s pretty simple. Hannay, a rather boring, straight-laced British gentleman, meets  a woman with a thick accent in a theater where a magic show is going on who says she’s a spy. He takes her home (by her own invitation), where she is murdered.

The chase is on, for a mysterious organization called “The 39 Steps,” Scotland Yard and various local constabulary across the English landscape are all hot on his trail. He meets another two women, one of whom helps him solve the mystery that the first lady uttered – that the organization is secreting a formula for a powerful weapon out of the country for the purpose of mayhem and destruction.

It’s a thin plot, but strong characterization on the part of the Weathervane Playhouse cast and the technical crew, who supported the blazing speed of the costume and zany set maneuvers.

Weathervane Playhouse, "The 39 Steps," cast. Photo from www.akron.com

Weathervane Playhouse, “The 39 Steps” cast. Photo from www.akron.com

You wouldn’t know it from the order of the bows at the end, but Davis and Jackson, who played a slew of different characters, would have stolen the show with their antics and quick thinking during the performance I saw. They would switch from character to character at the change of a coat or the switch of a hat – which itself was highly comical as they turned their heads, doffing one hat after another and shifting character.

They didn’t walk away with show – mainly because Worswick is such a strong actor and stage presence. For her part Chebo deadpanned her three characters, letting them become the essential straight men in the skits to the comedians around her.

During the performance, the audience seemed to love the shenanigans and the deftly done portrayals. The puns that were strong allusions to Hitchcock films were never lost on the viewers, while the costumes (like that of a cow being milked) got their own laughs.

Weathervane Playhouse’s “The 39 Steps” is one to see.

“The 39 Steps” will be performed at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday and 2:30p.m. on Sunday through May 19 at Weathervane Playhouse, 1301 Weathervane Lane, Akron; 330-836-2626; www.weathervaneplayhouse.com. Tickets are $21 ($5 for all students).