Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The 39 Steps

Hitchcock meets The Carol Burnett Show in the Orlando Shakespeare Theater's production of The 39 Steps. Filled with comedy shticks, innuendo and creative use of minimal cast and props (requiring a bit of an imagination from the audience), The 39 Steps is an adaptation of the novel by John Buchan and the movie by Alfred Hitchcock.

The cast of four, a combination of newbies and seasoned regulars, manages to bring to life numerous characters with thick accents and several hats to wear. Spencer Plachy in his debut season as handsome fugitive, Richard Hannay... and only Richard Hannay appears in almost every scene. Although his soliloquies slow down the momentum of the play, his accent is impeccable and the only one I could discern. Astute at physical comedy, he received a rousing hand of applause as he agilely squirmed his way out from under a dead body, pretended to walk along the outside of a train, and fell from a makeshift bridge.

In her debut season, Deanna Gibson, the only female in the cast, channels Carol Burnett as Annabella, Margaret, and Pamela. And considering Burnett is a comic genius, Gibson has big shoes to fill - whether she intended this homage or not. She comes closest as Annabella, the German (her nationality is questionable) spy, with an accent so thick I was lost most of the time. But I found myself transported to my youth watching a skit from the TV show starring Carol Burnett and Harvey Korman.

Brad DePlanche and Brandon Roberts round out the cast as - according to the dramatis personae - Clown 1 and 2 respectively. Taking on multiple roles - sometimes in the same scene, DePlanche and Roberts prove to be both adept at physical comedy and character development. Amazing with quick changes of clothes and accents, this comedy team keeps the audience laughing throughout the entire show. Although some of their antics wear thin, their overall effect is fun and frolicsome. And if only Roberts looked more like Lyle Waggoner than Don Knotts, they would have captured the entire cast of The Carol Burnett Show.

I thoroughly enjoyed the unique use of props (or lack thereof) throughout the production. This theater company never fails to amaze me with their sparse but essential use of scenery, lighting and sound to create the ambiance of a show. I especially enjoyed the shadow puppetry segment.

I know that it was all part of the scripted comedy, but it did get old trying to discern what the heck everyone was saying due to the over-the-top, thick accents. And speaking of getting old, many shticks were played to death - the DUM DUM DUM every time the 39 steps were mentioned was the most annoying. But overall, this Jim Helsinger directed production keeps you entertained - and isn't that the point.

The 39 Steps runs through October 10th.

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