Review: “The 39 Steps” a hit at Pioneer Playhouse

Published 5:23 pm Thursday, June 13, 2024

Pioneer Playhouse opened its 75th season with “The 39 Steps” last week, a comedic murder mystery play involving spies, government conspiracies, and romance. Saturday’s performance was a packed house, and the playhouse was filled with laughter.

“The 39 Steps” is a spy thriller movie by Alfred Hitchcock made in the 1930s, originally adapted from a book by John Buchan. Patrick Barlow made the story into a play with a comic twist.

The play follows an everyday man named Richard Hannay, played by Forrest Loeffler. At the start, he expresses dissatisfaction with his boring life. Little did he know his life would turn upside down when he suddenly falls into the middle of a conspiracy. 

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After a seemingly normal visit to the theater, Hannay finds himself harboring a suspected spy named Annabella, played by Peyton White. She is killed that night, and the next day Hannay is on the run suspected of murder.

Loeffler does a fantastic job portraying a proper gentleman who’s in over his head. His character has little to go on to prove his innocence, but is able to hold on to the small clues, endlessly inquiring about The 39 Steps.

Just seven actors play over 40 parts; the only constants being Hannay and his eventual love interest Pamela, played by Elizabeth Massie. 

Each actor brought the energy needed for this wild tale. Throughout Hannay’s journey on the run, he meets a host of different characters, all played by the actors Roland Meisler, Lewis Wright, Kevin Reams, Brittany Brizzee, and Peyton White. These actors mastered the quick changes and ability to play such different roles.

While much of the play involves Hannay running around, it’s balanced out by lulls in the action where we get to know the main characters. 

Although the play has the plot of a spy thriller, it brings the energy of a comedic parody. Actions and accents are highly exaggerated to create hilarious scenes.

Actors nail the goofy versions of 1930s prim and proper British accents, in addition to the comically hard-to-understand Scottish accents.

I was thoroughly amused watching the actors chase Hannay throughout the set. The action scenes were very fun, and I was impressed by the use of props. 

The set work was marvelously simple, each aspect or prop able to act as multiple things throughout the play. It made for creative ingenuity in setting the scene, which also added to the comedy. 

The audience got a kick out of shadow and light tricks used to heighten the action and make the most out of the set. 

“The 39 Steps” was a fun time, and worth seeing for anyone who enjoys a blend of mystery and comedy. 

The show runs until June 29 from Tuesdays through Saturdays each week. Pioneer Playhouse serves dinners at 7:30 p.m., with the show at 8:30 p.m.