As Constellation Theatre Company wraps up its performance of The 39 Steps each night, one thing’s for certain: the lighting designer deserves his own curtain call.
Managing Director A.J. Guban handled the scenic and lighting design for Constellation’s latest romp, a parody homage to Alfred Hitchcock, and finds countless ways to add to the production’s laughter quotient through the use of sheets and shadows, using various sight gags and winking nods to Hitchcock’s various films beyond the titular inspiration to keep things interesting. It’s just one source of delight in a show that works tirelessly to entertain its crowd.
In brief, The 39 Steps’ ennui-stricken rich bachelor, Richard Hannay (Drew Kopas, having a blast), takes in a night at the theater. After shots are fired and a quintessential, German-accented femme fatale shows up on the scene (Patricia Hurley, effectively exaggerating each line and gesture), it’s not long before he’s on the run from the police and trying to solve an international espionage mystery in the process.
The 39 Steps closes March 8, 2020. DCTS details and tickets
The 39 Steps was originally a suspense film in the 30s (well, if we’re being completely accurate, it was first a novel in 1915) — in 2005, British playwright Patrick Barlow transformed it into a stage comedy that hit Broadway in 2008 — that’s the version Constellation and director Nick Olcott are taking on today.
A mere four actors take on a dizzying number of roles for the play (the formidable and versatile Gwen Grastorf and Christopher Walker are each credited aptly as “cast of dozens”), and the show continually makes cheeky reference to how much its players are working overtime to pull off the gags.
And it’s hard to underestimate how essential Grastorf and Walker are to the show’s success. The pair play dynamically off of each other, finding ways to incorporate a half dozen characters in mere minutes of stage time. Grastorf is as at home embodying a busybody hotel owner delighted by the arrival of star-crossed lovers to her rooming house as she is inhabiting the vaudevillian performer “Mr. Memory.” Walker easily juggles roles ranging from bumbling police offers to would-be local politicians, but really gets to shine as a James Bond-esque villain who shows up on the scene near the close of Act One.
The 39 Steps demands a firm grasp of physical comedy and a real ability to roll through the punches (all the hijinks and the occasional set issue, such as uncooperative window blinds, keep its actors on its toes). The result is a festive farce that doesn’t even require any Hitchcock fandom (though a little doesn’t hurt) to get the audience chuckling.
The 39 Steps. Director: Nick Olcott. Movement Director: Mark Jaster. Fight and Intimacy Director: Jenny Male. Scenic and Lighting Designer: A.J. Guban. Costume Designer: Sabrina Mandell. Sound Designer: Gordon Nimmo-Smith. Puppet Designer: Alex Vernon. Dialect Coach: Teresa Spencer. Technical Director: Michael Salmi. Production Stage Manager: Paula Fritz. Properties: Allison Arkell Stockman, Nick Martin, Nick Olcott, Pamela Weiner. With Gwen Grastorf, Christoper Walker, Drew Kopas, and Patricia Hurley. Produced by Constellation Theatre Company. Review by Missy Frederick.