MONMOUTH — “The 39 Steps,” a laugh-filled spy-chase that spoofs a 1935 Alfred Hitchcock film, delivers nonstop hilarity. Even Hitchcock, that dour master of suspense on film and TV, would chuckle at the on-stage antics in Monmouth Community Players’ current production.

It’s a remarkable four-actor romp that re-creates a gripping pre-WWII spy story. This stage version is played straight-faced, but the action is mile-a-minute comedy. Nearly 150 characters are played by just three men and one woman in a whirlwind of costume changes and quick switches.
Adam P. Blais directs “The 39 Steps” and he also portrays Richard Hanney, the hero who finds himself pursued by British constables on a train and by Scotland Yard through the highlands, and he has to elude foreign agents at every turn. Blais’s role is the only one played by a single actor, and his performance is outstanding.
Blais, who is artistic director of Monmouth Community Players, was seen in the emcee role a few weeks ago in MCP’s production of “Cabaret.”
Karen Lipovsky plays three women with whom Hanney becomes entangled. The first, Annabella Schmidt, is a spy who winds up with a knife in her back in Hanney’s flat. The second is Margaret, the attractive wife of a Scottish farmer who’s considerably older. Margaret helps Hanney escape from the approaching policemen. The third is Pamela, who finds herself an unwilling partner in Hanney’s desperate exploit because they have become handcuffed to each other.
Lipovsky has appeared in several MCP shows. She played Lurene in “Last Gas,” and she has portrayed Sally in “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.”
Other roles include Karen/Gilmer in “Godspell” and appearances in several productions of Gilbert and Sullivan operettas.
The show’s success relies on the exceptional talents of Bart Shattuck and Sean Wallace. They are cast as dozens of different characters throughout the play. Shattuck and Wallace appear as officers of the law, reporters, train conductors, milkmen and on several occasions, as women. Their quick-change skills are hilarious. They are on-stage and off in a flash, transforming from one character to another with a flip of a hat. The clever use of minimal props adds to the fun.
Shattuck is making his first appearance on the Cumston Hall stage in Monmouth. His theatrical credits include touring with the National Shakespeare Company and roles in numerous regional theater productions across the country.
Wallace has been in Community Little Theatre performances in Auburn including “9 to 5,” “Oliver,” “13,” “Beau Jest,”“Arsenic and Old Lace,” “Spamalot,” “Aida,” and “Jekyll & Hyde.”
While these four actors keep the show rolling at a madcap pace, many crew members are critical participants behind the scenes. Brandon Chaloux and Sarah Wing are co-stage managers. Jeanne Fletcher is producer.
The outstanding costumes also deserve mention. Michelle Handley has dressed the ladies (Lipovsky times three) in striking 1930s fashions, and there’s a variety of men’s coats, hats and uniforms that are just right for what each scene requires.
Paul G. Caron is keyboard accompanist. He improvises appropriate music throughout the play, and there’s a brief musical phrase that’s a key element in the plot.
With the virtuoso performances of the four actors and the occasional tongue-in-cheek references to titles of some Hitchcock films, “The 39 Steps” is a must-see production.
Remaining performances are at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, April 22 and 23, and at 2 p.m. Sunday, April 24, in the opera house of historic Cumston Hall. 796 Main St., Monmouth.
Tickets are $14 for adults and $12 for students, and may be purchased in advance online at www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2105744, by phone at 1-800-838-3006, or at the door via cash or personal check.


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