Cedarville University’s theatre program has had one of its most popular seasons in years. Ticket sales records were set in the fall for the Shakespeare classic “The Taming of the Shrew” and in the winter for “Pride and Prejudice.”
Topping off the 2013-14 season is “The 39 Steps,” and the stakes are high. Fortunately, however, “The 39 Steps” proves to be one of the most unusual Cedarville productions in recent memory, ending the year with a bang.
Audiences anticipating “The 39 Steps” should have trouble neatly classifying the play, which is not surprising. Started as a 1915 adventure novel by John Buchan, “The 39 Steps” was filmed by Alfred Hitchcock in 1935 and was later adapted to a play by Patrick Barlow. The story has evolved little by little into the comedic spy thriller on the Cedarville stage. The mishmash of genres and contexts creates a unique show.
The opening-night audience roared with laughter at the slapstick-ridden and dialect-driven story, though knowledgeable members in the crowd welcomed the subtle (and not-to-subtle) references to other Hitchcock films. As soon as the audience walks into the house, the 1930’s theme is immediately noticeable, and it sets the precedent well for the impending performance.
Such a challenging script calls for actors with multi-faceted talent, and the four in “The 39 Steps” more than rose to the occasion. Adam Silorey, who has snagged a role in all three productions this year, takes on the “leading man” persona of Richard Hannay with authority. The facial expressions and sense of urgency he brings to the character seal the play’s foundation well.
The rest of the cast (that is, the other three) play multiple roles. Chandler Hull, who plays opposite Silorey, demonstrates distinct personality differences between her three main roles, jumping into each persona with confidence.
Eric Rasmussen and David Widder-Varhegyi, however, are the true show-stealers as the “clowns.” Every bit of time that the two are on stage brings a smile to the audience’s faces, especially when they shape-shift to characters before the audience’s eyes. Rasmussen and Widder-Varhegyi’s physicality and dexterity complete the show, and both of them exert the energy needed to pull off their roles.
Because there are so few cast members, the show has the potential to be a technical conundrum, but that is precisely how the show is successful. The show thrives on speed, both in the scene and character changes, and if the audience looks closely, they can see sweat on the actors’ faces. The characters use the stage to its fullest potential, and thanks to Gisela Mullican’s ingenious set design, their work is cut out for them to surprise the audience with every creative vignette.
The actors have to invent many of their own effects, which they do well to make the show all the more impressive; the simple action of waving their coats to simulate wind, for example, illustrates the environment effectively.
Sometimes the characters’ various dialects get in the way of perfectly understanding the dialogue, but because the play relies on the action to move the story, it ends up being a minimal issue. The frequent fourth-wall breaks are the reason the show operates so cleanly, and the audience will feel welcomed at this immensely enjoyable production.
“The 39 Steps” received a standing ovation on opening night, and it was absolutely deserved. It brings something different to this season, ushering in technical excellence and brilliant action that keeps the audience enthralled from start to finish. Don’t miss what is surely one of this spring’s biggest surprises.
Roger Gelwicks is a senior technical and professional communication major and an arts & entertainment writer for Cedars. He believes that honey badgers are vastly overrated and that a Komodo dragon could take one on any day.
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