“The 39 Steps” — “Dun dun dunnn!” — is a rather confusing parody of classic spy films. It follows Richard Hannay, a bored-with-life chap who encounters a spy named Annabella at a show. When Annabella winds up dead, Hannay is accused and must clear his name.
He travels to see a man with the top part of his pinky missing to find out what the 39 steps — “Dun dun dunnn!” — are and who really murdered Annabella. After much mishap, including being handcuffed to a love interest and escaping death by way of a hymnal, he finally finds out the truth at the same show he met Annabella at, “Mr. Memory.” I am missing a plethora of events that happened in this play, but it would be impossible to list them all in a 500-word article.
The EMU Theater Department’s recent production of this spoof was not to be taken seriously. It was clear to me that the play was performed to exert light-hearted escapism. After the thought-provoking and dark performances of “Grace” and “Far Away,” this was refreshing, but also overdone.
It was reminiscent of “The Brothers Grimm Spectaculathon” performed at the very beginning of the year. Only a few actors played over 150 characters, and the antics overshadowed the plot. There is a specific target audience for these types of shows, and I’m just not it. Even if I was the target, however, these types of shows would still get old after a while.
My personal preferences aside, there were some bright spots in the performance. In the first act, I was disappointed in some of the more juvenile and cliché jokes, such as fart noises, the blinds not closing gag, and falsely dramatic death sequences. The second act picked up; It was fast-paced and actually made me a laugh a few times.
The silly accents in the performance were also well done. Typically, fake accents are just sad excuses for acting, but in this case, they were mixed amongst some pretty solid acting and added something special to the show. I especially appreciated First-year Abigail Greaser’s performance. She was able to switch effortlessly from Mr. Memory to a police officer to many more zany characters with thick accents.
It was clear that a lot of work went into the show. I can only imagine how long it took to perfect the timing of sound effects, make sure all the props and costumes were right where they needed to be, and, of course, practice switching characters, accents, and outfits in order to make this show performance-ready.
In the future, I look forward to seeing the show selections that the theater department makes. Maybe some more mainstream and less niche shows?
Also, I’m sure that I’m not alone when I say larger audiences would be appreciated at EMU performances. Even though this was not my favorite play to watch, it is important that the campus community and surrounding neighbors support the arts.
Overall, Hannay’s journey of ups and downs was congruent with EMU’s performance of “The 39 Steps.” There were positives in the acting, but negatives in show selection. Perhaps I took the show too seriously and needed to loosen up a bit, but no performance can please everybody in the audience.