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All photos: Ron Nabity
A femme fatale invites herself home for the night. She tells wild stories of spies and military espionage in her heavily accented english. She is dead in the morning with a knife in her back. This sends Richard Hannay in a race across England and Scotland in search of a mysterious man missing a fingertip, figuring out what the 39 Steps are and, hopefully, to clear his name.
This is the basic plot of a 1915 spy novel by Scottish writer John Buchan titled “The 39 Steps.” Buchan used the Richard Hannay character in four more action-spy novels.
The novel, given its action/thriller qualities, was adapted into several radio plays. The first was by Orson Welles and his Mercury Theatre.
There have been a four movie adaptations of “The 39 Steps” to date, with Alfred Hitchcock’s 1935 thriller the best-known by far.
Eventually, in the mid-90s, Nobby Dimon and Simon Corble created a four-actor play based on the story. This play was adapted by by English actor/writer/director Patrick Barlow into a broadly (emphasis on broadly) comic, action, spy thriller.
John Buchan’s novel and its early adaptions are very serious. This is the period between World Wars I and II. This is especially true of the Hitchcock film version with its dramatic score. Looking at the production with contemporary eyes, it is not hard to see how it could be adapted into comedy. What had been very serious business becomes very seriously funny business.
The play is a great choice for B Street Theatre. Producer/Director Buck Busfield is excellent at working with actors playing multiple roles and comedy moving at manic speed. Last year’s production of “Love Child” is a good example. B Street also has a wealth of actors who are so good at this type of comedy.
Veteran Sacramento actor Kurt Johnson, who just completed his role of QD in “Northport Cottage,” plays Hannay, a role he deftly handles. Most of Hannay’s direct humor is the offhand remarks he makes, much of which are directed at the female characters playing opposite him. For much of the humor, Hannay is the foil or “straight man” to the other characters.
Kurt Johnson as Richard Hannay
The three women who cause much of Hannay’s problems, including femme fatale Annabella Schmidt, are played by Melinda Parrett. Parrett, originally from Carmichael, has appeared in productions throughout the country. She successfully creates the three different personalities.
Kurt Johnson as Richard Hannay, Melinda Parrett as Annabella Schmidt
The nearly 140 other characters are divided up between between Jason Kuykendall and Amy Kelly, credited as Clown 1 and Clown 2 – adept descriptions. This is a change from the Broadway and London productions, where the multiple characters both male and female are played by two male actors.
Image by: Ron Nabity
Amy Kelly as Mister Memory, Jason Kuykendall as The Announcer
Kelly is great playing both the male and female characters. Kelly was a a standout as the very unhinged patient of the allergy clinic in this season’s B3 Series production of “Well,” her first performance at B Street. Kelly’s experience as a comedian, voiceover artist and impersonator serve her well in this production. She manages to easily keep up with Kuykendall, which is no easy task.
Jason Kuykendall can be described as fully unleashed here. He elicits reactions from the audience from chuckles to downright hysterical laughter. Most of the time hysterical laughter. His characters are easily the funniest in the show, and he takes full advantage of it. It can be as simple as Kuykendall’s BBC announcer’s description of the fugitive Hannay. As the announcer goes on describing Hannay, it becomes obvious that he finds Hannay quite attractive. At other times it is just pure slapstick humor.
Amy Kelly and Jason Kuykendall as ancient members of the BIRP
Kelly and Kuykendall work well off each other. They appeared together in “Well.” A lot of their humor depends on split-second timing. Some of the costume/character changes hardly allow the audience time to take a breath. It is very obvious they are having a great time playing these roles.
Myke Kunkel’s set, while relatively sparse, does a good job representing the multiple scene locations. These range from Hannay’s apartment to a large performance hall to the Scottish countryside. One of the more astounding, surprising effects is Hannay hanging from the Edinburgh Forth Railway Bridge.
Lighting by Ron Madonia combined with sound design by B Street staff both create a sense of place and are often part of the humor.
Paulette Sand-Gilbert’s vintage costumes range from fashionable to funny.
B Street Theatre starts off its 20th year with a bang. Actually several bangs. As B Street Producing Artistic Director Buck Busfield says in his introduction to the play: “I’ve wanted to do this play ever since I read the early reviews. I knew it would be perfect for us here at the B Street Theatre."
He is completely right. “The 39 Steps” is a perfect play to show off all the talent at B Street, from directing to acting and everything else it takes to put on a play. And the audience is the winner. Go see “The 39 Steps” and forget all your troubles for a couple of hours, and just have great fun time.
2 hours including intermission. Through February 28, 2011