Review: “The 39 Steps” in Cloverdale and Santa Rosa

In comedy, timing is everything and two North Bay theatre companies have timed productions of the same comedy to run concurrently. The Cloverdale Performing Arts Center and SRJC’s Summer Repertory Theatre program are presenting Patrick Barlow’s adaptation of The 39 Steps.

Based on the 1915 adventure novel by John Buchan and the 1935 Alfred Hitchcock film, it’s your basic innocent-man-gets-caught-up-with-an-international-spy-ring-and-ends-up-falsely-accused-of-murder story given the farcical treatment. It ran for a few years on and Off-Broadway and has become a popular choice for regional and community theatres.

It’s a challenging show with 33 scenes that requires only four actors. One plays the lead while the other three take on every other role. One actor can be playing a newsboy, a lingerie salesman, and a cop and often in the same scene.   

Nicolas Fernandez, Chris Johnston

Richard Hannay (Chris Johnston at CPAC, Nicolas Fernandez at SRT) is enjoying an evening at the theatre when a shot rings out.  A femme fatale asks him for his help as she’s on the run from some mysterious organization intent on stealing some vital information about the country’s defenses. She ends up dead and Hannay finds himself on the run. Can he avoid the police, the murderers, a villainous professor, and a randy Scottish innkeeper’s wife?     

Quick changes, horrible accents and the occasional swapping of hats allow the troupes of three (Sandy Ziviani, Dan Stryker, and Austin Schmidt at CPAC; Caroline Pernick, Roberto Perez Kempton, and Carson Cerney at SRT) to essay a couple of dozen roles and all earn their share of laughs.   

The main difference between the two productions is their scenic design. Theron Wineinger brings a nicely detailed set to SRT’s version which holds almost every item necessary for each scene. The actors double as the crew as they grab things off of shelves or utilize chairs or boxes on stage to represent a car or a train. CPAC’s Yavé Guzmán goes in the opposite direction with large set pieces that required additional crew and time to move. This tended to bring the action to a screeching halt.

Some bits ran long and at two-plus hours (including intermission) both shows tend to lose steam (the film runs a scant 82 minutes) but if you’re looking for some laughs, either show will do.

Rating for both (out of 5): ★★★½

‘The 39 Steps’ runs through July 28 at the Cloverdale Performing Arts Center, 209 N. Cloverdale Blvd., Cloverdale. Saturday, 7:30pm; Sunday, 2pm. $12 -$25. 707.894.2219.

‘The 39 Steps’ runs through July 31 runs in Santa Rosa Junior College’s Newman Auditorium, Elliot Ave., Santa Rosa. Dates and times vary. $25–$28. 707.527.4307.

Photos by Tom Chown and John Gobeille

This review originally appeared in an edited version in the North Bay Bohemian.

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