I've had terrific luck with local theater recently. Two weekends ago I caught one of Blackbird Theater's last performances of Tom Stoppard's brilliant Arcadia, a play I'd wanted to see for about 15 years. The exciting thing was watching a local cast — a mix of actors I've always enjoyed, such as Denice Hicks, and excellent new-to-me faces such as Jeff Boyet and Wes Driver — step up to meet its challenges, thus saving me a ticket to New York to catch the current Broadway revival.
After reading Martin Brady's review in this week's Scene, I saw The Rep's production of The 39 Steps last night, and it was pure delight — a dizzying burlesque of the 1935 Hitchcock thriller, performed by a quartet of (sometimes literally) somersaulting farceurs. Three sequences in particular made me laugh harder than anything I've seen onstage in many years: a furious quick-change routine for inventive supporting players Peter Vann and Patrick Waller aboard a depot platform; a wonderful chase atop a moving train staged with a couple of versatile trunks and some well-deployed fog; and a piece of shadow puppetry so blissfully silly my little girl and I were still giggling about it on the way home. And Nate Eppler and Martha Wilkinson make a swell Harvey Korman and Carol Burnett — they're like a week of TCM given human form.
Martin's review pretty much nails it:
In fact, with the sole exception of about a two-minute lag in Act 2, the entire enterprise is a slam-dunk success. Besides negotiating complex blocking and rapid-fire dialogue that must simultaneously advance the plot and evoke chuckles, [René] Copeland's deft staging also pays gratifying tribute to Hitchcock. This comes in various ways, including occasional banks of fog, Paul Carrol Binkley's sound design (which interpolates some of composer Bernard Herrmann's familiar string motifs into the underscoring), a verbal nod to The Man Who Knew Too Much, plus clever silhouetted references to North by Northwest. And yes, the master himself puts in an "appearance," as he almost always did in his vastly entertaining flicks.
As homage, this 39 Steps is on the money. As theater, it's precise, sharply executed, often hilarious and always rewarding.
Miss this, and you deserve the same fate as the poor schmoe who carries a perchload of crows across the stage.