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Spies, intrigue on Weathervane stage

5/9/2013 - West Side Leader
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By David Ritchey

‘The 39 Steps’ features ‘excellent’ acting, directing

From left, Brian Jackson, Scott Davis and Richard Worswick share a scene in Weathervane Playhouse’s “The 39 Steps.”
Photo courtesy of Weathervane Playhouse
MERRIMAN VALLEY — “The 39 Steps” demands the audience sit back, relax and laugh. Seldom have I heard laughter stop a show as happened at Weathervane Playhouse on opening night, May 3.

“The 39 Steps” has a checkered past. John Buchan wrote the novel “The 39 Steps,” which was published in 1915. Alfred Hitchcock directed the movie 20 years later. The movie is considered by some critics to be one of the best British films ever made. 

Patrick Barlow wrote this stage version as a satire of the Hitchcock film.

The play starts as a music-hall production, featuring Mr. Memory, a man who has great mental skills. When shots are fired in the music hall, things quickly go from campy to high farce. Annabella Schmidt (Bridget Chebo), who is seated in a balcony with Richard Hannay (Richard Worswick), asks Richard to take her home with him. At his flat she tells him she’s being pursued by a man with a missing finger. This man and his colleagues want to kill her. She also wants a drink. That’s understandable. The man with the missing finger is part of a spy team determined to bring down the British military.

Before the evening ends, Annabella is dead and Richard has escaped because he thinks he will be arrested for her murder. The remainder of the script focuses on Richard’s ongoing attempt to escape the thugs who murdered Annabella. During those travels, Richard meets interesting, sometimes dangerous and always well-acted characters.

The story is acted by four performers playing almost 150 characters.

Worswick is excellent as a frustrated man on the run. His role requires a great deal of physical comedy, and Worswick is up to the demands of the story.

Chebo plays Annabella, Margaret and Pamela and makes each character different and delightful.

The other two roles are identified as Clown 1 (Scott Davis) and Clown 2 (Brian Jackson). The clowns play the other characters, including some of the strangest looking female characters to cross a stage or steal a scene. 

The four actors are exceptionally challenged by having to play so many different characters. However, they are up to all challenges.

Director Marc Moritz understands comedy and keeps the action moving at a hurried pace. Moritz has four actors and almost 150 characters to keep in order. He keeps each of those characters distinct, bright and on key. 

Moritz pays homage to Hitchcock several times during the production. Moritz includes other references to Hitchcock. At one point, Hitchcock’s silhouette crosses the stage as airplanes attempt to attack Richard in the style of “North by Northwest.”

Scenic designer Alan Scott Ferrall made the set function as a character. For example, when Richard needs to escape, a window is carried on stage and he crawls through the window and is gone. In other scenes, Richard must hang from a bridge and, later, he is chased by an airplane. The simple, yet, powerfully functional set exposes the back wall of the theater, with set pieces rolled onto the stage for certain scenes.

I saw “The 39 Steps” in London a few years ago and enjoyed the production. That experience prompted me to read the novel and watch the Hitchcock version of the movie. By starting with the novel, moving to the Hitchcock film and then going to the stage production, I understand how one version of the story leads to the next.

This is an excellent production of “The 39 Steps.” Get your tickets, go to the Weathervane Playhouse and prepare to have a good, loud laugh. The show runs through May 19.

For ticket information, call 330-836-2626.


David Ritchey has a Ph.D. in communications and is a professor of communications at The University of Akron. He is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association.

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