It's a pleasure to welcome theater events back to the Darien Arts Center. The Darien Arts Center Stage will encompass drama, cabaret and musicals, and its first production is "The 39 Steps."
This is not, however, the story people of a "certain age" will remember from John Buchan's early spy novel, nor the famous, film by suspense master Alfred Hitchcock. This adaptation, which, although staying close to the original plot, is done as good, old-fashioned farce.
In this case, the production crew was larger than the cast because seven actors played 15 characters (at least that's how many I counted) in two hours of hilarity, making lightening-fast character, and everything else, changes.
There were two exceptions to this marathon. One was the leading role of Richard Hannay, a totally innocent man drawn into an amazingly complex situation played with consummate skill by David Victor. The other was Pamela, the de facto heroine, played by Linda Gilmore, whose relationship with Hannay ran from anger and denial to, of course, true love, all of it very funny, and toward the end, sweet.
They spend most of the second act handcuffed together, making for a very funny, perhaps a bit painful, at least for Hannay, problem, when they tried to climb over a stile while being pursued by police. (Or are they real police? Aha.)
Within the first 20 minutes of the play, Hannay finds the heavily accented, operatically dying Mata-Hari-type spy reclining across his lap with a knife in her back. He is immediately accused of killing her, and is forced to run. This precipitates all the other events, as he tries to elude the police. He is something of a bumbler, (in this version anyway) and keeps getting involved with some very odd people, most of whom are not who they say they are. To tell more of the story would spoil it for those who haven't seen it but should. Even if you do remember it, see it anyway.
There were two clowns listed in the program, and they really were. They take on myriad roles -- including a Hitchcockian villain, with fez and smoking jacket; a couple of really hilarious drag roles; outrageous Scotsmen (and women) with outrageous burrs, and who ultimately provide the denouement at the end -- and are performed by P.J. Morello and Vic Terenzio. These two really carried most of the high comedy on their shoulders. Geoffrey Gilbert, in seven roles, was also wonderfully funny, never missing a beat and keeping right up with Morello and Terenzio.
The scene in the Scottish hotel was beyond hysterical, especially since the characters had to do their own sound effects, as well as, would you believe, a kilted Highland Fling. Melissa Schleier was terrific as the spy and murder victim, Annabella Schmidt, and equally good as a put-upon farmer's wife who gets Hannay into even more trouble. I don't want to give away too much, but this show offers a chance to laugh yourself silly.
The co-direction by Donna Wyant, Autumn Howard and associate director Kathleen Sauer was expertly done -- tight, fast and flawlessly timed, with excellent technical direction by Jeffrey Wyant and his talented associates. Ron Dobey was the stage manager who, with his efficient crew, kept the hilarity on track. The costuming and bare bones set pieces worked smoothly, and created whatever illusion was needed.
Performances take place at 8 p.m. on March 15, 16, 22 and 23 and at 2 p.m. on March 17 in the DAC Weatherstone Studio, behind Darien Town Hall, 2 Renshaw Road. Tickets are $25 for adults, $20 for seniors and $15 for students and can be purchased by visiting arts.darien.org or calling 203-655-5414. For information, call 203-655-8683.
Arden Anderson-Broecking, professional singer and musician, is a music critic and feature writer living in Fairfield County.