Déjà vu by four
by Michael Dresdner
You might want to scroll down and read my most recent previous post; it’s a review of The 39 Steps which opened one week ago at Renton Civic. Last night the same play, but with a different cast, venue, production team, and director, opened at Centerstage, and while the words and “plot” were largely the same, the presentation was decidedly different.
You’ll notice I put “plot” in quotes. There is one – the plot of Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps – but it’s really quite irrelevant, especially in this version. The feeling you walk away with is that it’s merely a structural excuse for this excellent four person cast to stage something remarkably close to a series of Monty Python sketches. If you like that sort of thing, and fortunately, I do, you’ll be delighted with how very well they do it.
Robert Bergin, the only actor who inhabits just one character throughout, plays Richard Hannay, the protagonist, with an earnest combination of reserve and befuddlement reminiscent of Jimmy Stewart. He provides a small measure of sanity needed to anchor the madness around him. Mariana De Fazio plays the three very different women who guide Hannay’s convoluted journey with an understated support that subtly but substantially aids and abets the rest of this well-meshed ensemble.
It’s just this well-constructed acting backdrop that enables the two clowns, Vince Brady and Erik Gratton, to soar. They play a whole host of different outrageous characters hell-bent on grabbing the laughs, and boy are they good at it. With quick costume changes, a host of different voices, and elaborately energetic physical comedy, they play a wide range of short, tall, gruff, absurd, giddy, and foolish men and women. There’s one hilarious scene, with Gratton playing a short women, on his knees and in drag, trying to sit on a bed, that alone is worth the price of admission.
There’s no set to speak of, save for an elaborate train trestle made of ladders and boards that appears in one short scene. Instead, the four actors hustle a variety of set pieces – chairs, tables, couches, counters, doors and windows on wheels, etc. – not surreptitiously like dutiful stage hands, but quite overtly, and usually in character. “This mockery,” they seem to say, “is brought to you by us, the actors, moving set pieces, providing our own sound effects, and changing our clothes, heights, and characters, right before your eyes.”
Aiding both the actors and director Cynthia White is an army of back stage denizens providing costumes by Julia Evanovich, sound design by Ray Pritchard, lighting by Amy Silveria, set design by Jerry Clausen and Greg Heinzel, and props by Sheila Criscione, Mary Sawyer, and Laura Campbell. Together, they make a team that delivers a night of ribald fun.
All this should come as no surprise from the theatre that so adeptly brings English Pantomime to the Puget Sound each year. If there’s one thing Centerstage has a good grip upon, it’s the combination of nuance and lunacy that is British comedy.
The 39 Steps
September 28 through October 20, 2013