Tuesday August 22nd 2017

“39 Steps”

Every season, Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook takes a step back and produces one non-musical to offset the great expense one of the major productions brings to its stage. What they have on their stage right now, is a four member cast, physical farce that almost defies gravity in its production value.  “39 Steps” is a Tony Award winning thriller, based on the novel by John Buchan ( the “father of the spy novel”) and the 1935 Alfred Hitchcock film, but in so many ways, this show far outweighs the original concept and to be very honest, the production now on stage at Drury Lane Oakbrook is far superior to what we witnessed two years ago as part of the Broadway In Chicago series. The basic story of “39 Steps” is that of Richard Hannay ( played to the Nth degree by Peter Simon Hilton, who has the ideal flair of the Englishman that is needed to construct a farcical adventure such as this one. He is the perfect “straight man” for the other characters in this show) who sitting alone in his living room decides to get out and do something that will not use his brain in any way- “go to the theater”!

What starts out as an evening of relaxation and taking himself away from his altogether boring existence, he begins an adventure that he will never forget; a female spy is murdered in his apartment and he is blamed, he runs and evades the police through all types of ordeals so that he can clear his name and go back to his own, dull life, but what we as an audience experience through this two hours of sheer zaniness is a wonderful entertainment experience where four talented actors take our minds off anything and everything so that we can laugh our rear-ends off at the escapades, close calls and a myriad of characters ( 140 or so played by three actors) so that he can prove to the world that he is not guilty.

The set ( designed by  Kevin Depinet, one of the busiest designers in town) is wonderful as he is able to reduce the width of the large Drury Lane stage to a smaller venue. It may have been better to left this a little wider just so the people on the sides do not miss any of the zany action that has been put on this stage by David New who is a comedy writers best friend when it comes to playing for the laugh- he gets it!). While Hilton is a solid actor with great physical abilities and his leading lady ( who plays ALMOST all the female roles) the lovely and very talented ( as well as sexy) Angela Ingersoll is a delight, the two CLOWNS as they are so named in the program, are what makes this show work! Paul Kalina, one of the 500 Clown trope founders, who has been doing ( and teaching) physical comedy for many years is the perfect actor to take on one of these roles, and his partner-in-crime, Jeff Dumas, who has been in many local productions and one major touring company, must have taken a close look at what Kalina added to the mix as he fits in to perfection.

These two men take on most of the characters in this story about a man on the run trying to prove he is innocent . They are the performers at the theater that Richard attends, different police officers, the villain and his wife, the inn-keeper and his wife and newsboys, salesmen, conductors, and the list goes on and on. Out of the 140 characters, they probably account for 130 of them- outstanding timing and very quick costume changes, I would have to imagine that rehearsals were an absolute blast a sthey learned what to do and how fast they could do it. The story is second to the marvelous feats of physical comedy that you see on the stage at Drury Lane and I for one imagine some “Jeff Awards” will be forthcoming- this is one that will be difficult to surpass- from start to finish pure magic and side splitting laughter.

We all need escape, in one way or another, from time to time, and I can guarantee that if you are seeking a diversion, “39 Steps” will take you away from your hum-drum or pressure filled life for two hours of laughter and amazement as you see actors become character after character, changing characters within seconds- you will not only forget your troubles and “just be happy”, you will drive home form Oakbrook with a smile in your heart and you may just find yourself whistling a melody,not knowing where it came from ( FYI- it is part of the show). Rita Pietraszek’s lighting effects and Rob Milburn and Michael Bodeen’s sound design along with the marvelous costumes by Tracy Dorman and property design ( and procurement) by Nick Heggestad round out the tech part of the play that makes a production a production. Needless to say, the fight choreography by Joe Foust and having an agile cast, makes this show THE complete production that audiences will rave about for a long time.

As I said earlier, the touring company came here about two years ago, but before I entered the theater, I had a difficult time recalling much of the play ( I do recall the Hitchcock film) but I know that this production left a greater implant on my mind as I had the time of my laugh ( oops- I mean life) tonight. There is no question in my mind that while this is a four cast member production and they work very well together, the key element to the success of this show are the clowns- They keep the rhytm and the pace up so that audiences  get the biggest bang for their buck. That is why I am so happy that during the curtain call, Mr. Hilton and Ms Ingersoll take the stage first and then  “bring in the clowns” ( don’t you know, there had to be clowns- and yes! They are here!) Kalina and Dumas are sooooo worth the price of a ticket, in fact, I would venture to say, that this production is the best “bang for your buck” in town or in fact, any town!

“39 Steps” will continue at The Drury Lane Oakbrook located at  100 Drury Lane in Oakbrook ( just North of the shopping center) through August 26th with performances as follows:

Wednesdays at 1 :30 p.m., Thursdays at 1:30 p.m.and 8 p.m.,Fridays at 8 p.m.,Saturdays at 5 and 8:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 and 6 p.m.

Tickets range from $35-$45 ( probably the best entertainment value in the area) and you can even double your pleasure and lower your cost by enjoying a marvelous lunch or dinner in the dining room which brings the range from $49.75 to $68.

Student and senior discounts are available and plenty of free parking, outdoors and enclosed lots- for reservations, call 630-530-0111. stop by the box office, or go online at www.drurylaneoakbrook.com. You can also call Ticketmaster at 800-745-3000

To see the other reviews, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to review round-up and click on “39 Steps” page

If you love farce- physical comedy ( the three stooges and such) do not miss this extraordinary comedy! If you do, you will be sorry!


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