Although I’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 – so, basically, not so different from a Shakespeare play. I didn’t know what to expect, but I was really excited to see actors I’d been watching for years saying lines that didn’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 madness… 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 that’s easy to follow and enjoyable for any audience member.
I was very, very impressed with HVSF’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 O’Connell and Wesley Mann as… 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. That’s right – ‘stage hands’ Jack Mackie and Marianna Caldwell acted as armchairs, doors, telephones, and even a bog. If you’re having trouble picturing this, go see the show for yourself; it’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, that’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. Visit http://hvshakespeare.org/content/2012-calendar for details or to purchase tickets.