The 39 Steps at Shakespeare and Co.
September 30, 2012 matinee performance reviewed by Frances Benn Hall
The plot of this play now gracing the stage of the Bernstein Theatre at Shakespeare and Co. is one of hectic chase and pursuit, mayhem and madness. Four actors, abetted by three stage hands (honorably invisible in black) weave in and about playing dozens of characters including spies, murderers, and sheep farmers as well as kilted police and females of allure and treachery.
Central and pursued is Richard Hannay, a young Englishman innocently forced to flee from England to Scotland, when a woman with a knife in her back dies in his apartment. Once there, after a harrowing train trip, he encounters every sort of danger and harassment from German spies to Scotch police in kilts, to say nothing of herds of sheep and women of allure and danger.
The ever shifting settings, from airfields to sheep cotes, are speedily contrived by the whirling of trunks and door frames from which there can appear a different person than expected. Scenes can send enemy aircraft zooming over a ducking audience or trains whirling through Scotland in which actors are at times passengers and at others escapees from the latest disaster.
Central to it all and on stage from the beginning to the end is Hannay (Jason Asprey) running for his life but at unexpected moments delighting with a stellar acting moment when in the midst of mayhem he can pause a moment to let his face slip into self satisfaction at the handsome “wanted” character described in the press. His role demands, as that of his fellow actors, constant acrobatic involvement, and involves women, the three most exciting played with his co-star, Elisabeth Aspenlieder.
Aspenlieder as Annabelle appears in his London apartment with a knife in her back and her inconvenient death makes Hannay a wanted man. Her entrance to his bedroom involves gymnastics that should not be missed. Later she moves into his life when as Margaret, a young woman with a gimpy leg and discontented with being wife of a sheep farmer. And then there is Pamela who has to remain with him for the rest of the play because they are sharing handcuffs. All three roles played with brio and with such makeup it is hard to realize she is the same woman.
The other two cast members each play around a dozen roles with instantly changing characters at times including men and women, police and spies, sheep farmers and BBC broadcasters. David Joseph dies gallantly when shot, plays his own wife in a matter of seconds by donning a wig and is marvelous as a kilted policeman in huge red wig as partner to his cohort. Also drives a neat car.
Josh Aaron McCabe is often the scary other, big and brawny. BBC announcer, partner kilt wearing police, but also suave Brit on a train. Or the BBC. Or a pilot of a swooping plane. A man to be watched and feared. And then there is a CAT. Enough. You will remember the cat.
Director Jonathan Croy holds all this madness together ably assisted by his staff of musicians, lightmen, costumers, etc.
This is a delightful play. You may even want to see it twice.
Shakespeare & Company tickets contact information
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- Lenox, MA 01240
- phone: 413-637-1199