THE 39 STEPS

by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM
Atlantic Beach Experimental Theatre (ABET) opened its second show of the season and its last show of 2011, with “The 39 Steps.” This may be one of the funniest shows ever on ABET’s stage in its twenty-year history. It will be on stage until December 17, at 716 Ocean Boulevard in Atlantic Beach Florida. Call 249-7177 for reservations and visit their website at www.abettheatre.com.
“The 39 Steps” is based on the 1935 black and white Alfred Hitchcock movie that shows up on cable from time to time, and may be available at your public library. The novel, first published in 1915, was by British writer John Buckhan. Actor-playwright Patrick Barlow wrote an adaptation that incorporated the previous works into a zany two-act stage version. The play opened in England in 2005 and made to Broadway in 2008, where it was nominated for six Tonys (winning two) and ran for almost 800 performances, followed by an off-Broadway run that ended in January of 2011. Kudos to ABET for securing the rights to this farce.
A simple plot recap would go like this. A man is accidently involved in murder and espionage and an alliance with a disbelieving young woman who reluctantly provides aid while being pursued by villains who believe he has obtained details of their plot to steal British military secrets.
Now if that sounds very, very serious, believe us is it not. Playwright Barlow has fashioned a fast-paced show that is downright campy and filled with tomfoolery.
There are only four actors in the play. The central protagonist is Richard Hannay played with a suave and world-weary but debonair style by everybody’s favorite actor, Joe Walz. He is the only actor to play just one role.
Amanda Morales, who, since she moved to Jacksonville, is establishing herself as a solid and versatile actress, plays three roles. First she is a foreign spy complete with a hat with black feathers and veiling, a red trench coat, and a foreign accent who has some rather bad luck. Next, the rather homely looking wife of a crazy Scottish farmer, who falls romantically for the fleeing Hannay who has sought refuge in the farmhouse. Finally, Pamela, the lovely woman on a train who becomes entangled with Hannay’s flight from the bad guys.
Nick Boucher and Mike Smithgall are listed in the program as Clown #1 and Clown #2. These accomplished comedians never dress as clowns but do clown it up in multiple roles, as they portray some 120 characters, with various British and Scottish accents. In a train scene, in the space of less than two minutes, one plays a conductor, a policeman, and a traveling salesman, the other an old woman, a salesman, and a newsboy. Don’t blink; you’ll miss the costume changes!!
Boucher, a Jacksonville University junior, has expanded his talents to community theatre and we have never seen him in such wild and zany roles. We are familiar with the comedy ability and antics of Smithgill from performances at the Dave and Buster’s Mystery Dinner theatre.
Director Erik DeCicco could not have cast this show any better. It takes talented and intelligent actors to handle the split-second timing required in a farce such as this. DeCicco was ably aided by Lesley Nadwodnik as Assistant Director.
The set designed by Director DeCicco and Richard Hall has a simple structure, but multiple adaptations. The floor is covered with worn wooden planks and includes crime-scene body outlines, a red wall to the left indicates a theatre box, and two large moveable panels are used throughout for the many rapid changes in scene. The depiction of the train was particularly amusing. Bryan Frank and Erik designed the evocative lighting and sound.
The costumes by Janae Lafleur were cleverly designed to communicate the essence of the character while supporting the need for free movement and quick changes.
Special kudos to Stage Manager Katie Berry and her backstage crew member, Ian Chaille, who were constantly bringing on furniture, changing curtains, and bringing out props for the many scenes. In addition, they were backstage to handle the various clothing and hats necessary for all those changes.
We highly recommend this show, and guarantee you will laugh. A lot. Take the children, they will love it, and there is nothing at all objectionable other than a minor slap-stick murder or two.

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