Drury Lane Theatre continues its season with “The 39 Steps,” a farcical adaptation by Patrick Barlow, based on an original concept of Simon Corble and Nobby Dimon, John Buchan’s novel, and a subsequent Alfred Hitchcock movie. Johanna McKenzie Miller directs this spirited sendup of the whodunit genre, a trim two-hour show that delights at every turn.
While “The 39 Steps” has a similar plot and characters to previous adaptations of the 1915 novel and the 1935 movie, the play is a parody.
We first meet the everyman, Richard Hannay, played by Tony- and Olivier Awards-nominee Gavin Lee, who is wrongfully accused of a crime and finds himself in a twisted web of spies and contract killers. The cast is incredibly talented and malleable, with strong comedic timing across the board. Lee plays Hannay as both a reserved, upper crust Englishman and a debonair, charismatic leading man. One moment he is a dashing hero and the next, a bundle of nerves in tweed.
Caitlin Gallogly carves out three distinct characters who tangle with Richard at some point on his journey: Annabella, the femme fatale; Margaret, the wide-eyed ingenue; and Pamela, the steely “modern” woman.
Completing the cast of four are Zuhdi Boueri and Tom Detrinis, Clown #1 and Clown #2. I can’t speak highly enough about Boueri and Detrinis. Their quick changes and character work are impeccable. Transformations are furiously fast and neither misses a beat. It’s a physical show for all involved, but the Clown roles bear the brunt of the character work, and as such, adapt instantly to illustrate each new personality. An elderly man, a newsboy, a long-married pair of Scottish innkeepers—all delightfully spring to life in seconds before the audience’s eyes.
Scenic designer Angie Weber Miller has crafted a nimble wood-clad set made for quick scene changes. Combined with projection designer Anthony Churchill’s all-encompassing projection work, Lee Fiskness’ lighting design, and Ray Nardelli’s sound design, we are transported seamlessly from a busy train station to a stately manor home to the moody Scottish moors. Although the set is open for the most part, apart from some of props design supervisor Cassy Schillo’s minimalistic set pieces, there are times when the show’s blocking prevent the audience from being fully let in on a joke or two. A lot of the humor lands best with the right facial expression to punctuate it—an exasperated glance, a quizzical brow—and it was lost in translation.
Fans of famed fictional detectives like Poirot, Sherlock Holmes, Miss Marple, and even Jessica Fletcher will enjoy this play, a self-aware love letter to mystery stories.
“The 39 Steps” at Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace, (630)530-0111, drurylanetheatre.com, $85-$95. Through August 13.