Although Iâ€™ve been an enthusiastic patron of the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival for five seasons now, this week was the first time I saw a non-Shakespeare performance. The 39 Steps is an Alfred Hitchcock thriller with mistaken identities, romance, and a healthy dose of hilarity â€“ so, basically, not so different from a Shakespeare play. I didnâ€™t know what to expect, but I was really excited to see actors Iâ€™d been watching for years saying lines that didnâ€™t rhyme.
The story focuses on an ordinary Englishman named Richard Hannay, who finds himself unwittingly embroiled in an international espionage scandal. When a murder transpires in his apartment, he hops on the first train he can find and tries to escape the madnessâ€¦ which, naturally, only implicates more people and gets the antagonists even angrier.
Although drama and suspense are the major genres of the play, lighthearted elements like comedy and a love-story temper the action to create a plot thatâ€™s easy to follow and enjoyable for any audience member.
I was very, very impressed with HVSFâ€™s rendition of this play. The most striking aspect of the performance was small cast. There were only four members: Richard Ercole as Richard Hannay, Gabra Zackman as the three different women Hannay encounters, and then Jason Oâ€™Connell and Wesley Mann asâ€¦ well, everyone else. Watching these colossally-talented actors switch personalities, costumes, and accents was half the fun of the show. Then, to add even more flavor, two other actors served as props and the set. Thatâ€™s right â€“ â€˜stage handsâ€™ Jack Mackie and Marianna Caldwell acted as armchairs, doors, telephones, and even a bog. If youâ€™re having trouble picturing this, go see the show for yourself; itâ€™s pretty unforgettable!
This high-energy performance impressed me on many different levels. The acting was fantastic, the interpretation was creative, and I really feel like it could appeal to any demographic. In my opinion, the director did a valiant job of making up for a somewhat flat script (although it did have several clever allusions to famous Alfred Hitchcock films). The plot was a little predictable and most of the comedy came from the acting, not from the dialogue. However, thatâ€™s just about my only criticism: as usual, HVSF did an outstanding job.
The 39 Steps will run until August 31st at the beautiful Boscobel estate in Garrison, NY.Â Visit http://hvshakespeare.org/content/2012-calendar for details or to purchase tickets.