The 39 Steps
Through Sunday, Jun. 24
Kennedy-McIlwee Studio Theatre, Raleigh
I don’t want to say we’ll never see a better iteration of Patrick Barlow’s loopy homage to Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps than the one that closes this weekend at TheatreFest.
But here’s what anyone trying to follow its act will have to do to surpass it: First, get a designer to create a vintage British stage more sumptuous than Jayme Mellema’s elaborate two-story red-and-gold proscenium. Then, find a costumier wittier than Laura J. Parker to dream up numbers more deft and daft than the feathered getup that makes femme fatale Annabella Schmidt look like an haute couture version of an oil-slicked crow, while dashing lead Richard Hannay is tweedy but not twee, traversing an international web of intrigue as he flees a shadowy spy network and the police.
After that, procure a director more steeped in improv and physical comedy than Rachel Klem, who finds new comic possibilities in Hitchcock’s world. Cast a Hannay more never-say-die than actor Jonathan King and a Schmidt who simultaneously expresses and mocks stereotypical female roles better than Marisa Markoch.
It gets harder. Hire actors with broader range than Gus Allen and Daryl Ray Carliles to juggle literally dozens of other supporting characters, including Allen’s memorable Mr. Memory and Carliles’s semi-sinister Professor Jordan. Recruit stagehands more quicksilver than Roman Lawrence and Austin McClure to perpetually propel props and set pieces in and out of scenes. Then pray for dressers like Sara Marin, Nicole Hiemenz, and Aysia Slade to make it possible for your actors to transition between all those characters in seconds flat.
It can be done, in theory. But I wouldn’t hold my breath if I were you. See this accomplished version while you still can.