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Theater Review: The 39 Steps

There is real joy and merriment in Kristi Scott’s production of “The 39 Steps.” Now playing at the Pro Arts Playhouse in Kihei (located within the Azeka Marketplace), Scott’s comedy is a consistent laugh-generator and a genuinely novel spoof of the films of Alfred Hitchcock. While far from the first to make fun of classic Hitchcock seat grabbers, Scott’s delightful romp is full of clever stage craft and a game cast of flexible actors in tour de force comic turns.

John Williams stars as Richard Hannay, a suave, single man whose night out at the theater has him connected with an alluring mystery woman (played by Patty Lee). A stage performance (yes, we get-within-the-play) thrusts Hannay into a vast conspiracy that puts him on the run and in pursuit by local law enforcers (played by Lina Krueger and Ross Young).

Scott’s production is fast, funny and completely nutters. There’s an affectionate nod in the direction of Monty Python, as the brisk pace, inspired silliness and a committed cast in multiple roles keep the audience delirious and dizzy. The overall result is like a score of Hitchcock thrillers sent up in the style of “The Naked Gun,” as The Master of Suspense’s Everyman-on-the-run chair grippers are given a thorough spoofing.

The play is rife with slapstick, puns, funny accents and inventive staging. It would all be insufferable or exhausting if it wasn’t funny but this manages to awfully sharp and consistently hilarious from top to bottom.

Halfway through the first act, leading man Williams is visibly sweating, which is understandable; he and his co-stars work very hard to make all this rapid fire goofiness look easy, which it most certainly isn’t. Williams is perfect as the droll Everyman and Lee is inspired in her multiple embodiments of Hitchcock’s femme fatales and accented damsels. Krueger is a riot playing men of authority and corruption and Young goes for broke and beyond playing characters so daffy, they defy description. Jett Bee George is also in the midst of the madness and manages to keep a straight face throughout the proceedings (something the cast occasionally and endearingly struggled with on opening night).

“The 39 Steps” demonstrates that there’s no limitation in utilizing theatrical creativity for effect. At one point, one of Lee’s characters are introduced with her hair blowing seductively in the wind, which is created by an actor visibly waving a fan nearby; it’s one of many touches both clever in conception and a total riot to see them pull off. There’s also multiple dashes through windows, a train chase, auto rides and foot pursuits that demonstrate how ingenious theatrical innovation can overcome any limitation. Scott allows moments where classic Bernard Herrmann scores from Hitchcock’s works play over the scene. There’s also a blatantly absurd, uproarious use of the “Cantina Theme” from “Star Wars” that had my doubled over with laughter. That happened to me a lot during “The 39 Steps.”

The 39 Steps is playing at the ProArts Playhouse at the Azeka Shopping Center March 2-25th Tickets are available at www.proartsmaui.com or by calling 808-463-6550.

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