Review: Geva's '39 Steps' a madcap evening of fun

05:52 PM, Oct 28, 2013

John Gregorio as Richard Hannay and Monica West as Annabella in Geva Theatre Center's production of The 39 Steps. (Ken A. Huth/ / Photo provided by Geva)/


Written By Marcia Morphy

Hitchcock presents: a madcap “Good evening” of farce in Geva’s production based on the legendary filmmaker’s 1935 thriller, The 39 Steps.

In this Monty Python-like spoof adapted by Patrick Barlow from the John Buchan novel, dashing 37-year-old Richard Hannay is an everyman drawn into an elaborate web of intrigue. In London, he meets a World War II female spy with a thick German accent. She alludes to a conspiracy plot to steal vital British military secrets and invites herself to his apartment after they meet during a music hall performance of the human encyclopedia savant Mr. Memory.

When she staggers to his side the next morning with a knife in her back, Hannay goes on the lam to escape being framed for her murder. With sly references to Hitch’s most famous films, the unwitting hero must dodge murderous thugs, escape from a moving train, leap from a railway bridge, rove wearily across the Scottish moors, run from police, hounds, Birds and aircraft going North by Northwest and exit through a Rear Window. Along the way, he meets two femmes fatales, including one who suffers from Vertigo, who add spark to his love life.

The cast of four actors, under the tight direction of Sean Daniels, manage to create more than 150 characters — from farmers, hotel owners and police officers to the maid who delivers the epic silent scream that turns into a train whistle. While the inventive rolling props and Houdini-like trunks by scenic designer Michael Raiford double as hotels, kitchens and bedrooms, the sound effects by Matt Callahan add lively momentum to augment each scene.

John Gregorio as Hannay, the only character who remains the same throughout, seems like a character from Comedy Central, clueless to the tornado swirling around him, but with spot-on comedic timing. He also has a dapper charm that Cary Grant would envy. My favorite scene is when he is mistaken for a visiting speaker and has to deliver a hilarious impromptu oration.

The three female roles of Annabella the secret agent, Pamela the skeptical love interest and Margaret the Scottish farm girl are meticulously and humorously executed by Honeoye Falls native Monica West, who brings heady amounts of sophistication and cunning mannerisms (loved her balcony scenes) that elevate and accentuate her characters’ air of mystery.

Aaron Munoz as Clown 1 and Joel Van Liew as Clown 2 face the Herculean task of changing language, posture, speed and physicality through instantaneous transformations, through hats, from conductor to porter and newspaper seller, and throughout as they toggle between a slew of engaging characters. Munoz is a mix of Stan Laurel and Mrs. Doubtfire — an absolute hoot to watch. And Van Liew plays so many demanding roles, it’s hard to count them; my favorites were his Scottish bagpiper and shepherd (complete with a spoof on Shari Lewis’ Lamb Chop).

If you’re expecting the master of suspense to reveal his famous cameo profile in 39 Steps, you won’t be disappointed. This time, though, Hitch doesn’t play himself. Fans will certainly notice the mistaken identity.