Don’t miss Hitchcock parody ‘39 Steps’ at Village Theatre

Richard Hannay (Aaron Lamb) in “The 39 Steps” at Village Theatre from March 3-26 at Everett Performing Arts Center. (Mark Kitaoka, Village Theatre)

“The 39 Steps” is a favorite of community groups, colleges and small professional theaters.

Village Theatre takes the lightning fast-paced absurdist murder mystery-spy thriller parody and slapstick comedic melodrama to another level. In fact, it is doubtful that you will ever see a better “39.”

The play opens tonight, March 3, at the Everett Performing Arts Center for a three-week run. Don’t miss it, especially if you are in need of a belly laugh.

The play was adapted in 2005 by Patrick Barlow from the 1915 novel by John Buchan and the 1935 movie by Alfred Hitchcock.

Director Matt Walker calls the show a cross between Hitchcock, Monty Python and wild circus clowns. And it’s a celebration of the theater’s “enduring ability to create a bit of magic from whatever’s handy,” he said.

The stagecraft for this show is fantastic and the acting is furious, fun and phenomenal.

The cast of four includes Aaron Lamb as the main character, Richard Hannay, a guy who gets mixed up in a spy story and is falsely accused of murder; Emily Cawley, who plays Annabella, Pamela and Margaret, the women with whom Hannay is romantically entangled; and the very talented “clown” duo of Orion Bradshaw and Chris Ensweiler, who play at least 120 zany characters — sometimes two or three at a time — during the course of the play.

Village audiences will remember Bradshaw from his turn as Doc in last year’s production of “Crimes of the Heart.” Ensweiler was the brilliant Passepartout in “Around the World in 80 Days” from the year before. No wonder these two are skinny guys. They must burn thousands of calories during the mayhem of each show. Their costumes, accents, props and story lines change in seconds. How they keep it all straight is mystifying.

Lamb, a favorite at Taproot Theatre, is equally as spry as Hannay, and his role shows off his physical comedy talents.

Cawley, who previously performed in the Second Story Repertory’s production of “39,” is wonderful as a femme fatale, a farmer’s wife and a prudish young woman.

While the play is a Hitchcock parody, it also is an homage to the great film director. In fact, the stage’s proscenium arch is topped with Hitchcock’s iconic left profile.

As Hanney runs from the police and the spies, he is haunted by crows from Hitchcock’s “The Birds” and crop dusters from “North by Northwest.” Puns on the titles of and allusions to other movies run throughout.

Set in the 1930s, the play inserts all sorts of Great Depression-era images. But director Walker also includes pop music, the audience does The Wave and in an improvised Model T made from travel trunks, the characters put on imaginary seat belts.

The pantomime by the actors is delightful. Especially outrageous are that automobile scene and a bit during which Hannay is chased on the outside of a moving train. On-stage wind never looked so real.

The creative team on this show has done amazing work. The set, pop-ups from the stage floor, lighting, sound, costumes and all other technical contributions are essential to this production.

Everett is lucky to have such outstanding professional theater presented right at home.

Village Theatre announced this past week that it now has a whopping 20,000 season subscribers. Those people aren’t going anywhere, and as the traffic to Seattle grows more congested, the number of people attending Village productions likely will increase.

That being so, it would be nice to see Village step out a bit with some experimental theater occasionally during the late winter season slot when the company does a play instead of a musical. I think the audiences could handle it. They like it when new musicals are presented, so why not a new play?

That also being said, “The 39 Steps” is a don’t-miss production and a definite crowd pleaser.

If you go

“The 39 Steps,” by Village Theatre, March 3-26, Everett Performing Arts Center, 2710 Wetmore Ave. Show times are 8 p.m. Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays, 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays. Tickets, from $45, are available by calling 425-257-8600 or at www.villagetheatre.org.

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