Drury Lane Oak Brook stages “The 39 Steps”
Peter Simon Hilton (from left), Paul Kalina and Angela Ingersoll star in "The 39 Steps" at Drury Lane.
‘The 39 Steps’
Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace
1:30 p.m. Wednesdays; 1:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. Thursdays; 8:30 p.m. Fridays; 5 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. Saturdays; and 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. Sundays; through Aug. 26
Tickets: $35-$46, with discounts available for students and senior citizens. Lunch and dinner packages available for $49.75-$68
Call (630) 530-0111 or visit www.drurylaneoakbrook.com
Updated: July 17, 2012 9:16PM
Unlike the noirish, intermittently sinister Hitchcock film that inspired it, the plot of “The 39 Steps” is all but beside the point. The fun in Drury Lane Oak Brook’s production is not in figuring out whether a dastardly cabal of spies will succeed in spiriting crucial military information out of Great Britain, thereby putting the entire planet in peril of a self-proclaimed “master race.”
After all, there’s not much suspense in the outcome of this 1935-set piece for anyone who knows how World War II turned out. (Spoiler alert: The Nazis lose.)
In “The 39 Steps,” the maximum entertainment is in the virtuosic displays of physical comedy and the shape-shifting shenanigans of a four-person cast playing too many roles to count. Whether the broad humor takes the form of quick-change artistry or carefully choreographed pratfalls, “The 39 Steps” remains a high-energy frolic.
Directed by David New, the show is also something of an affectionate send-up of Hitchcock’s better known films. The play has a tri-part pedigree: It is adapted by Patrick Barlow from the novel by John Buchan from the movie of Alfred Hitchcock. From that complicated authorship comes a show peppered with droll references to iconic scenes in such gems as “North by Northwest,” “The Birds” and “Rear Window.” All that’s missing is a Hitchcock cameo.
At the heart of the story is Englishman Richard Hannay (Peter Simon Hilton), a classically handsome chap who sports a brisk manner, a stiff upper lip, a ruggedly square jaw, a ready quip and a crisply tailored three-piece suit throughout. His adventure starts after an evening at the theater, when a quixotic meeting with an enigmatic woman in black ends with Hannay being accused of murder and entangled in a murky plot of international espionage.
On the run and desperate to A) prove he’s not a cold-blooded killer and B) save Great Britain from falling into the clutches of nefarious powers, Hannay’s epic journey takes audiences from his London flat to the moors of Scotland, with stops atop a speeding train, entangled in a parade of solemn-faced bagpipers, and at both a political rally and an all-important stage show involving the freakish mental powers of a fellow known only as Mr. Memory.
Kevin Depinet’s marvelous, minimalist set encompasses all these locales and more with an ingenuity that makes actual moors/trains/planes/automobiles wholly unnecessary. It’s lovely work that reflects both the vintage setting of the piece and its irreverent comic tone.
Hilton is the sole cast member to remain one character throughout, and he does a crackerjack job of it, giving audiences a pleasing matinee idol mix of Indiana Jones by way of Winston Churchill, were the latter young, dashing and a bit more like Clark Gable.
Playing the play’s trio of characters (exotic mystery woman, naïve Scottish lassie, pert female love interest), Angela Ingersoll displays a fine comic range and an equally solid grasp of the sort of physical funny business demanded when one must perform handcuffed to another performer for an extended period of time.
But the real workhorses here are Jeff Dumas and Paul Kalina, who play a dizzying quantity of roles between them. Some of their switches are accomplished within seconds; it’s here that they really shine. Kalina, a veteran of Chicago’s acclaimed 500 Clown troupe, is equally deft whether playing a bosomy hausfrau or a raucous traveling (underwear) salesman. Dumas is just as adept, and sometimes darn near unrecognizable from one transformation to the next.
When all is said and done, “The 39 Steps” isn’t the sort of show that will leave you pondering deep, existential thoughts. It’s a ridiculous and ridiculously entertaining piece of work — all the more so if you’re a fan of Hitchcock’s greatest hits.