The 39 Steps
Aug 9th, 2013 - Sep 22nd, 2013
Directed by Deborah Gilmour Smyth
Adapted by Patrick Barlow
from the film of by Alfred Hitchcock
from the novel by John Buchan
Annabella / Pamela / Margaret Kelsey Venter
Richard Hannay David S. Humphrey
Understudy Patrick J. Duffy
Clown 1 Jesse Abeel
Clown #2 Robert Smyth
Understudy Caitie Grady
Set and Props Designer Michael McKeon
Lighting Designer Nathan Peirson
Costume Designer Jemima Dutra
Sound Design Deborah Gilmour Smyth
Stage Manager Maria Mangiavellano
ASM Brenna Peirson
ASM Michelle Miles
ASM Sean O'Hara
Audio Master Patrick J. Duffy
Dialect Coach Jillian Frost
Wig Design Coni Brugman
Hair Design Susie Furguson

Some careful sleuthing has revealed that the two ladders featured prominently in Lamb’s Players Theatre’s “The 39 Steps” contain a total of ... 44 steps!

Those ladders, it’s true, have about as much to do with the play’s title as “The 39 Steps” has to do (at least in terms of tone) with the novel and film on which it’s based. Still, they serve as a handy symbol of how this snappy, laugh-filled and smashingly acted little show just keeps on over delivering.

Patrick Barlow’s adaptation retains the essential story from John Buchan’s 1915 novel, best-known for Alfred Hitchcock’s classic 1935 spy thriller. But in this version, four actors play all the parts — and sometimes several in the space of a few moments. The piece also gets maximum mileage from deliberately minimal staging elements, with handheld picture frames as windows, a set of trunks as the interior (and then the roof) of a train, and those ladders as the spindly legs of a railroad bridge.

With its winks at the makeshift artifice of it all (at one point the actors wait impatiently for the belated sound cue of a ringing phone), the piece becomes a knowing ode to the elemental, seat-of-the-pants daring of theater.

All that, and wacky Scottish accents, too.

It all begins when the dashing bachelor Richard Hannay (David S. Humphrey) gets mixed up in the seeming paranoia of a vampy German mystery woman named Annabella (Kelsey Venter), whom he meets at a London theater.

When she turns up murdered in Hannay’s apartment after revealing fragments of an espionage plot (the versatile Venter is a comic wonder in this and scads of other scenes), he goes on the run, seeking to uncover secrets in a remote Scottish town.

His main obstacles are a series of cops, fops and country bumpkins played masterfully by Robert Smyth, the theater’s producing artistic director, and Jesse Abeel, a Lamb’s regular (and a regular chameleon). Billed as Clown 1 and Clown 2, they handle the brunt of the play’s many quick changes ­— not just costumes but accents and, for Abeel, genders.

While Humphrey has the seeming luxury of playing just one role, he’s onstage nearly the entire time, and brings just the right mix of earnestness and urbane bemusement to this smartly silly show.

Deborah Gilmour Smyth’s ace direction is boosted by her own, witty sound design, as well as Jemima Dutra’s savvy costuming, Nathan Peirson’s sharp lighting and Michael McKeon’s resourceful sets and props.

Like Hitchcock himself, who is referenced shamelessly (and amusingly) throughout THE 39 STEPS this show has one singular profile. "
- James Hebert ( U-T San Diego )
"With all the critical drooling over the oeuvre of Alfred Hitchcock, it’s nice to know that the master of suspense can still be played for laughs.

THE 39 STEPS is a quick-change send-up played by a cast of only four that’s reliant upon unrestrained physical comedy, unashamedly obvious allusions (visual, verbal and musical) to other Hitchcock films and a vaudevillian, devil-may-care attitude.

The man-on-the-run espionage story, meanwhile, never stands a chance against the antics of the inexhaustible ensemble. David S. Humphrey is an elastic-limbed Richard Hannay, the wrongly accused hero, while Kelsey Venter tackles three roles, including the blonde Pamela who helps Richard clear his name. But three parts seems like child’s play compared with the load Robert Smyth (Lamb’s artistic director) and Jesse Abeel carry. Between the two, they portray policemen, innkeepers, innkeepers’ wives, foreign spies—even, in Abeel’s case, the moss, peat and shrubs of a Scottish bog. Smyth’s and Abeel’s lightning-fast changes of costumes and characters are more fun than the Hitchcock bits, which are easy snippets of parody.

Humphrey and Venter’s finest moment arrives in Act 2, when they’re handcuffed together. They pull off awkward twists, turns and grimaces that would make Lucy and Desi, who had at this shtick on TV eons ago, proud.

Truly impressive is how Lamb’s stages a man-on-the-run story with nothing more than props and body language. But after managing Around the World in 80 Days, as the theater did last year, the British Isles must have felt like a breather. "
- David L. Coddon ( CITYBEAT )
"THE 39 STEPS is a hysterical tale of murder and intrigue parodied from the Hitchcock movie of the same title. Four actors play a multitude of parts on the sparsest of stages with terrific comic timing. If you are too young to know who Hitchcock was, you’ll miss a lot of the tongue-in-cheek references to his movies, but it won’t matter because you’ll still be laughing. Kudos to a great cast that simply nailed it with their quick changes, challenging accents, and physical contortions.

In typical fashion, Lamb’s has a winner in this production. Don’t miss it!” "
- Alexandra Rosa ( Art ROCKS 247 )
" Except for two tall, A-frame ladders, two small balconies, and a solitary light bulb, the stage for Lamb’s Players is bare. Even the coal-black rear wall is exposed. Take away the balconies and Michael McKeon’s set would have all the minimalist makings for a production of Our Town. Instead, as McKeon’s props zoom on and off and four actors perform The 39 Steps in a pace as up-tempo — nay, madcap — as Our Town is stately.

In Alfred Hitchcock’s classic movie (1935), Richard Hannay is caught in a web of international intrigue. He flees in trains and cars and dashes hither and yon, maybe 39 steps per second, as all manner of constabularies, 38½ steps behind, chomp at his heels.

The Lamb’s show, brisk and beautifully timed, is goofy fun. David S. Humphrey (Hannay), Kelsey Venter, Jesse Abeel, and Robert Smyth sprint through blink-of-an-eye mini-scenes and costume changes. They don coats, hats, wigs (costumes by Jemima Dutra, piles of puffy hair by Coni), speak in various accents, and, often stacked with enough clothing for a Scottish winter, contort through tiny windowpanes and fences — at one point handcuffed, which Humphrey and Venter turn into a hilarious bit of fractured logic. "
- Jeff Smith ( SD Reader )
"Alfred Hitchcock meets Monty Python in Lamb’s uproarious romp. If you saw The 39 Steps at La Jolla Playhouse, this is not the same production. This is sharper, funnier and faster! A superb cast lead by dashing David S. Humphrey as the central figure Richard Hannay, trying to escape a murder he didn’t commit, will leave you breathless with their fine stage frolics. Go and see this hilarious production and treat yourself to some summer fun!"
- Jenni Prisk ( Jenni Prisk Reviews )

THE 39 STEPS is a deliciously hilarious mashup of Hitchcock movie titles that turns a film landmark into a crazy-quilt acting tour de force for four performers playing 40 roles.

It’s a tremendous feat, getting the comedy, the timing and the split-second costume changes just right. You need a superb and comically gifted cast, a stellar crew and a skillful director to mastermind the magic.

 Lamb’s Players Theatre has it all, and then-some.

Deborah Gilmour Smyth helms an extraordinary ensemble, centered by handsome David S. Humphrey as the hapless Richard Hannay, sitting in his London flat and bemoaning his boring fate. Before he can say Alfred Hitchcock, there’s an attractive young woman slumped across his lap with a knife in her back. He’s accused of murder and on the run… trying to out-smart the short-fingered vulgarian who’s trying to smuggle information out of the country, something involving the mysterious 39 Steps.

Solving the mystery is not half as engaging as the riotous stage business that gets us there: quick-change accents, genders and outfits - as the action sprints from London to Scotland, from bouncing and hiding in trains to hanging off the aforementioned bridge. 

Hannay’s unwilling partner in crime, hooked to him by handcuffs, is delightfully portrayed by Kelsey Venter, who’s also the first-scene spy and a sex-starved farm-wife. Then there’s Jesse Abeel and Robert Smyth, who play all the other eccentrics, male and female, intelligible or not. The props and costumes, musical interludes and pacing are terrific. This may not be Hitchcock, but it certainly isn’t for The Birds! "
- Pat Launer ( KSDS )
"Anyone sitting thru this fast and frantic little romp that doesn’t feel the urgent need to laugh, or at least smile is in the wrong theatre!

With the combined efforts of four actors, set and properties designer Michael McKeon, lighting designer Nathan Peirson and costume designer Jemima Dutra, a perfect storm unfolds. Director Deborah Smyth and company have used every trick of the trade imaginable and available to them.

The production is fun, silly and well, just what the doctor ordered for and end of summer frolic! "
- Carol Davis ( )
"A man mistaken for a murderer goes on the run in “The 39 Steps,” a wildly inventive, nonstop homage to and satire of both the Hitchcock film of the same name and the great man himself. This play depends on physical comedy, props like hats and the ability to switch accents – as well as costumes – on a dime. Characters cross and double-cross each other, furniture appears out of nowhere; the audience gets to imagine characters jumping out a train window, hoisting hand over hand to the point where they can clamber up onto the top of the train. Silly? Yes. Fun? Oh, yes indeed! "
- Jean Lowerison ( SDGLN )