39 Steps

The 'police' (T. Gordon Mayhall and Dustin Bartee) try to control their prisoner, Richard Hannay (John Smith) as he tries to escape during The 39 Steps.

A dashing gentleman, bored with his humdrum existence, tries to find inspiration in a London theater and ends up entangled in a plot that threatens national security.

So begins The 39 Steps, a play adapted by John Barlow from the book by John Buchan and the film by Alfred Hitchcock.

Audiences will thoroughly enjoy the quick pace and copious gags of this hilarious show, which can be seen at the Henderson County Performing Arts Center for only one more weekend (Thursday through Saturday, February 12-14).

Hitchcock fans will appreciate the profuse references and abundant homage to the master of suspense as they journey through the Pythonesque antics onstage.

All who have the opportunity to see HCPAC’s production will be delighted by the talents of the four cast members as they play multiple roles that often require instantaneous character switches and quick-change artistry.

John Smith turns in a superlative performance in the lead role of Richard Hannay, a debonair 37-year-old bachelor in London. As the rudder of a ship that gets mercilessly buffeted by the storms of lunacy, John provides a solid protagonist who helps the audience navigate the story.

Cassandra Schwantes first appears onstage as Annabella Schmidt, a mysterious woman in black, who draws Hannay into the intrigue. Annabella is murdered in Hannay’s flat, and Richard must go on the run to find the leader of the spy ring and clear himself of any connection with her death.

While Annabella’s stage life is short, Cassandra reappears as two other characters, adroitly inhabiting each.

The vast majority of the too-many-to-count characters are played by T. Gordon Mayhall and Dustin Bartee. From theater performers to henchmen to traveling lingerie salesmen, Gordon and Dustin consistently entertain and amaze with their split-second timing and their ability to shift characters in a heartbeat.

Gordon is particularly funny as the seductive Louisa Jordan, and Dustin’s Mr. Memory is classic. Other characters include milkman, newsboy, cleaning woman, train conductor, secret agent, husband-and-wife Scottish hoteliers and law enforcement officers.

All of the highjinks are enhanced by a stage crew (adeptly managed by Gary McDonald) who accomplish swift set changes (more than 25) and well-timed prop delivery to the actors. Directing kudos go to Marcia Colbert, who took on the multitude of technical challenges to bring this frenzied comedy to life. Robert Sullivan and Savanna Joblin also deserve mention for their deft handling of the myriad sound cues and lighting effects.

For an uproariously fun evening of nonstop laughter, don’t miss The 39 Steps. Showtime is 7:30 February 12-14. Reservations can be made by calling Henderson County Performing Arts Center at 903-675-3908.

J Niswonger loves community theater and has performed on the HCPAC stage.

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