Review: ‘The 39 Steps’ at Laurel Mill Playhouse

Laurel Mill Playhouse offers up a pleasing mix of comedy, melodrama, pathos and mystery in their amusingly fun production of The 39 Steps written by Patrick Barlow and directed by Stephen Deininger. The play was adapted from the 1915 novel by John Buchan and the 1935 film by Alfred Hitchcock.

Spencer Kate Nelson and Jen Sizer. Photo by Julie Rogers.
Spencer Kate Nelson and Jen Sizer. Photo by Julie Rogers.

The original concept and production was written for four actors to play all the roles in the show which was quite a daunting task due to the plays 30 odd roles. In Laurel Mill’s production, Director Stephen Deininger utilizes a larger group of talented performers, 12 to be exact, to create these same characters. This most certainly does not diminish from the original concept. In some ways, it actually adds to the depth of which Barlow’s characters are portrayed.

It was exceedingly pleasing and exhausting watching these actors switch from one character to another and one accent to another. If anything, it showed off the actors’ versatility and resilience. The production’s serious spy story is played mainly for laughs, and the script is full of allusions to (and puns on the titles) of other Alfred Hitchcock films, like Strangers on a Train, Rear Window, Psycho, Vertigo, and North by Northwest. As a huge fan of Hitchcock’s work, this production delighted me beyond my expectations.

The set designed by Stephen Deininger was simple, but highly effective due to the constant changes in set pieces to change from scene to scene. I loved the way the walls had simple props and painted murals of references to Hitchcock’s many movies, the most prominent being the “rear window” up center on the stage. I especially admired how Deininger portrayed trains and cars with the use of only chairs. The movement of the actors and the sound affects gave the perfect illusion that you were actually looking at the real thing.

The most impressive technical aspect of the show was the use of sound.  Director Stephen Deininger was also responsible for the Sound Design and execution for the production. The sound almost became a 13th character in the show because it was integral to the overall ambiance of the play.  Underscored music using Hitchcock’s famous movie themes and film noir dramatic music really added that much needed bit of pizazz to the show.

Julie Rogers and Gary Eurice. Photo by Julie Rogers.
Julie Rogers and Gary Eurice. Photo by Julie Rogers.

Mr. Deininger’s direction was completely spot-on as he moved his actors seamlessly from one tableau to another. It was almost like watching choreography getting the actors to change from one character to the next without even a beat. Bravo to Mr. Deininger for a job well done!

Being an ensemble piece of theatre, versatility was the key and this cast had it in spades. Everyone put in a terrific performance. Gary Eurice (Richard Hannay) played the central character of the play. He was one of only a few actors that played just one part. He had just the right amount of panache for Hannay with his wry tongue in cheek delivery. He showed his versatility during the production when he switched from a British accent to a Scottish accent with complete and utter accuracy.

Tom Howley (Mrs. Higgins, Salesman, Paperboy, Policeman, Crofter) and Jen Sizer (Salesman, Policeman, Porter, Inspector, Heavy, Chief Detective Inspector Albright) gave outstanding performances as they jumped from one character to the next without skipping a beat. Mr. Howley’s accent changes alone were something short of amazing. He is truly a versatile performer in every sense of the word.

Scott Lichtor (Professor Jordan) gave a truly maniacal performance as the villain in the piece. Of note, this same role will be played by Jeff Gilbert on 9/23, 9/24 and 9/25.

Anne Hull. Photo by Julie Rogers.
Anne Hull. Photo by Julie Rogers.

Rebecca Kotraba (Annabella Shmidt, McQuarrie) and Anne Hull (Compere, Milkman, Dunwoody) gave stand out performances as well. I particularly enjoyed their McQuarrie and Dunwoody as they played two elderly gentleman at an election rally. The slowness of Dunwoody’s walk and the twinkle in McQuarrie’s eyes were priceless.

Terri Laurino (Pilot, Sheriff) was hysterical to watch as she wolfed down biscuits with her tea and engaged in witty banter with our hero Hannay as the cleverly portrayed Sheriff.

Alan Barnett (Mr. Memory, Policeman, Mr. McGarrigle), Penni Barnett (Radio Announcer, Mrs. Jordan, Mrs. McGarrigle) and Spencer Kate Nelson (Pilot, Heavy) gave impressive performances again showing versatility in each role they played throughout the show.

Alan Barnett and Penni Barnett. Photo by Julie Rogers.
Alan Barnett and Penni Barnett. Photo by Julie Rogers.

Last, but most certainly not least, were Betse Lyons (Pamela) and Julie Rogers (Margaret) who played the young ingénues and or damsels in distress to the hilt. They were sweet, funny and charming the way their characters demanded.

So, if you are looking for a “Good Evening Ladies and Gentlemen,”come out to Laurel Mill Playhouse for a night of fun, mystery, laughs, and Hitchcock.

Running Time: One hour and 45 minutes, with one intermission.

The 39 Steps plays through October 2, 2016 at Laurel Mill Playhouse – 508 Main Street, in Laurel, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (301) 617-9906, or purchase them online.

RATING: FIVE-STARS-82x1553.gif


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