The 39 Steps at Hale Center Theatre in West Valley is a romp with edge. It's a serious thriller that's propelled to even greater heights by the hilarity of its bold comedic staging and performance.
The play is adapted by Patrick Barlow from the novel by John Buchan and is based on the Alfred Hitchcock film of the same name. It is the story of Richard Hannay, who is accused of murdering a stranger. While on the run from the law, he must stop spies from taking an important secret out of Britain.
The genius of the piece is that it is presented as a straight thriller but with only four actors playing nearly 40 characters. The comedy arises organically from the constant character switches, and an onstage Foley artist (Eric Phillips double cast with Brett Warner) and stage manager (Greg Larsen double cast with Wes Tolman) add to the fun.
Mitch Hall (double cast with Ben Jarvis) is superb as Richard Hannay, the straight man at the center of the comedy. Intermittently deadpan and frantic, he never crosses over the line of caricature.
Emily Bell (double cast with Kelly Hennessey), Carter Thompson (double cast with Jeffrey Whitlock), and Jake Ben Suazo (double cast with Justin Bruse) decisively and effectively play numerous characters through the course of the show. Special props go to Carter Thompson for his amusing spot-on portrayals of both female and male characters.
The scenic design by Jennifer Stepley-Taylor makes great use of the theatre's technical wizardry while still maintaining a feeling of non-technical theatricality that meshes well with the onstage Foley. The crimson stage curtains and period footlights add an air of mystery and a sense of time and place.
If you've never experienced this show, you'd be hard pressed to find a better stage comedy to raise your spirits from the winter doldrums.
The 39 Steps plays through February 2, 2013. For more information and tickets, call the box office at 801-984-9000 or visit www.halecentretheatre.org.