"}
On Stage

The 39 Steps

Of spies and silliness

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

My date and I had just taken our seats at the Mount Baker Theatre’s intimate Walton Theatre last Saturday night when a parade of older ladies proudly attired in various shades of purple clothing—and who were also adorned with sparkly red hats—filled almost an entire row nearby.

After my swain pointed out that I was also wearing purple, and suggested that perhaps I’d like to join them, I told him I wasn’t quite ready to sign up to be a lifetime member of their club, but that I’d keep a close eye on the women during the performance of the Winter Repertory production of The 39 Steps to see how they reacted to the comic whodunit.

A few of the colorful crew might have been around to see Alfred Hitchcock’s 1935 film of the same name when it first debuted on the big screen, but chances are good they’d since been apprised that the play they were about to see—which was adapted by Patrick Barlow from the novel by John Buchan—was an entirely different animal.

The basic plot of the stage adaptation hews closely to Hitchcock’s version: A bored Englishman in London, Richard Hannay, spends a night at the theater watching a man nicknamed “Mr. Memory” react to audience queries by spewing out a long list of facts he’s kept locked tight in his brain. Shots are fired, and not long afterward Hannay’s dealing with a frightened (and attractive) brunette with a guttural accent who informs him she’s a spy who’s being chased by assassins.

What follows involves murder, false accusations, an undercover trip to Scotland,  romantic entanglements, mistaken identities galore and, despite the serious subject matter at hand, heaping doses of humor.

Part of what makes this version of The 39 Steps less harrowing and more hilarious than Hitchcock’s version is that the plethora of characters are played by only four actors. While Hanna—brilliantly portrayed by Bellingham newcomer Christopher Cariker, with a spot-on accent, to boot—gets to stay in his own skin, his able sparring partner, Jennifer Ewing, must transform into a trio of romantic interests (spoiler alert: her first character is stabbed to death).

Chris Shea (Clown 1) and Gerald Browning (Clown 2) fill in for the rest of the more than 100 characters and inanimate objects that are depicted, and as far as I could tell, they didn’t drop the ball—or one of the many hats they wore—even once.

“I’ve never seen an actor portray a bog before,” my beau whispered to me during a scene that saw Hannay and his current love/hate interest escaping from a duo of assassins while slogging through a Scottish marsh. I’d similarly never seen actors portray airplanes, trees, pigeons and so many characters of varying accents and genders before.

Judging by the list of costumers and “wardrobe maintenance” crew mentioned in the program for The 39 Steps, it’s clear keeping the clowns clothed and propped wasn’t easy. But, like all successful productions, everyone involved made the transitions look seamless, and helped me believe in the myriad transformations—some of which only lasted a minute or two, but all of which elicited some sort of response from the audience.

I don’t think I went more than a minute or two without laughing during the entirety of the play, but I had nothing on the ladies in purple and red. They shrieked. They guffawed. They snorted and cackled and giggled uproariously through both acts, and then they laughed some more. Maybe it’s time to join their club, after all.

SVCR Don McLean
More On Stage...
Always, Patsy Cline
Musical memories at the Conway Muse

When Louise Seger met Patsy Cline before a show at Houston’s Esquire Ballroom in 1961, she was already a big fan of the country western star. By the end of the night, and until Cline’s untimely death at 30 in a plane crash two years later, the duo were fast friends.

In the time Ria Peth…

more »
Ubu Roi
A riotous take on President’s Day

If you’re keen to watch a power-hungry buffoon of a ruler lay waste to his newly-conquered kingdom thanks to a caustic combination of greed and self-indulgence, your first instinct might be to turn on the news and settle in for the long haul.

A second, more interesting option involves…

more »
Sugar and Spice
A Valentine’s Cabaret

When actress, dancer and director Brie Turoff Mueller presented her first “Sugar” cabaret at the Underground Nightclub last October after a decade of performing similar shows in New York City, she wasn’t sure how local audiences would react.

“It’s really different,” Mueller says. “In New…

more »
Events
Today
KMRE broadcaster receives citizen journalism award

5:00pm

17th annual Bellingham Human Rights Film Festival

10:00am|Whatcom County

New documentary focuses human rights film festival

7:52pm

Arsenic and Old Lace

7:00pm|Claire vg Thomas Theatre

Into the Woods

7:30pm|Whidbey Playhouse

Up the Down Staircase

7:30pm|Squalicum High School

Ubu Roi

7:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Wild Things

9:30am|Interurban Trail

Spanish Storytime

10:30am|Lynden Library

Valley Writers

1:00pm|South Whatcom Library

Food Not Bombs

4:00pm|Magnolia Street and Cornwall Avenue

Weird Washington

5:00pm|Bellingham Public Library

Friday Night Art Party

6:00pm|Tillie Lace Gallery

Whatcom Humane Society Wine Social

6:00pm|Bellingham Cruise Terminal

PhotoLUSH 2017

6:00pm|Lairmont Manor

Friday Night Art Party

6:00pm|Tillie Lace Gallery

Always…Patsy Cline

7:00pm|Conway Muse

And I Remember

7:00pm|Village Books

King John

7:30pm|Philip Tarro Theatre

International Guitar Night

7:30pm|Mount Baker Theatre

James Hunter Six

7:30pm|McIntyre Hall

Borealis Wind Quintet

7:30pm|Performing Arts Center Concert Hall

Cupid's Arrow Final Weekend

8:00pm|Upfront Theatre

MBT Rovers Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1
Tomorrow
KMRE broadcaster receives citizen journalism award

5:00pm

17th annual Bellingham Human Rights Film Festival

10:00am|Whatcom County

New documentary focuses human rights film festival

7:52pm

Arsenic and Old Lace

7:00pm|Claire vg Thomas Theatre

Up the Down Staircase

7:30pm|Squalicum High School

Ubu Roi

7:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Into the Woods

7:30pm|Whidbey Playhouse

Weird Washington

5:00pm|Bellingham Public Library

PhotoLUSH 2017

6:00pm|Lairmont Manor

Always…Patsy Cline

7:00pm|Conway Muse

King John

7:30pm|Philip Tarro Theatre

Cupid's Arrow Final Weekend

8:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Snow Play Day and Survival Skills

8:00am|Mt. Baker Ski Area

Children's Literature Conference

9:00am|Performing Arts Center

What's New in Organic Gardening

9:00am|Garden Spot Nursery

Plant Society Ramble

9:30am|Maple Creek Loop

UFO Primer

10:00am|Syre Hall

FiberFest 2017

10:00am|La Conner Middle/High School

Intro to Ancestry

10:00am|Ferndale Library

Winter Trail Run Series

10:00am|BBMX Park

Sumas Writers Group

10:00am|Sumas Library

Smelt Run

10:00am|La Conner Middle School

Kids Can Cook

11:00am|Community Food Co-op

Washington Beer Open House

12:00pm|Whatcom and Skagit counties

An all-season outdoor expo

1:00pm

Tax Help

1:00pm|Bellingham Public Library

Weird Washington

1:00pm|Lynden Library

Raising Pigs

1:30pm|Cloud Mountain Farm Center

Peace Corps Revisited

3:00pm|Lynden Library

Geology Underfoot

3:00pm|Deming Library

Starry Night Chamber Orchestra

3:00pm|Lincoln Theatre

Whatcom Writes

4:00pm|Village Books

Wishes for Our Stars Gala

5:00pm|Hotel Bellwether

Contra Dance

7:00pm|Fairhaven Library

Varsity Vocals

7:00pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Comedy Fundraiser

7:00pm|Lincoln Theatre

Boating Center Fundraiser

7:00pm|Elks Club

Light in the Night Gala

7:00pm|Settlemyer Hall

Wetzel's World

7:30pm|Lummi Island Library

Bayshore Symphony Winter Concert

7:30pm|Central Lutheran Church

Northwood Steak and Crab Village Books
Sunday
KMRE broadcaster receives citizen journalism award

5:00pm

Arsenic and Old Lace

7:00pm|Claire vg Thomas Theatre

Into the Woods

7:30pm|Whidbey Playhouse

Up the Down Staircase

7:30pm|Squalicum High School

Bayshore Symphony Winter Concert

7:30pm|Central Lutheran Church

Rabbit Ride

8:00am|Fairhaven Bicycle

Refugee Talk

2:00pm|Christ the Servant Lutheran Church

Northwest Cancer Summit

2:00pm|Bellingham Golf and Country Club

Sting and Piano Chamber Concert

3:00pm|Firehouse Performing Arts Center

The Tao of Raven

4:00pm|Village Books

Making time with Oscar

4:30pm

The Irish Rovers

7:00pm|Mount Baker Theatre

see our complete calendar »

IGN Cascadia Village Books Trove Northwood Steak and Crab Bellingham Technical College Bellingham Farmer’s Market Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1