A British Spy Thriller Turned Comedy

Scripps Ranch Theatre Brings the Silliness and Wit with The 39 Steps 

A Blog View by Alejandra Enciso-Dardashti

The cast of The 39 Steps. Photo Ken Jacques
As the year is coming to an end and the marquees start displaying Christmas and spooky classics, it is always fun to squeeze a comedy into the repertoire. Scripps Ranch Theatre did just that, closing 2023 with an adaptation of The 39 Steps, an Alfred Hitchcock movie turned comedy by Patrick Barlow, from the novel by John Buchan, directed by Phil Johnson. From the pre-curtain speech voiced by Johnson which immediately set the tone, this play proved to be a delightful slapstick comedy, filled with silly moments that kept the audience engaged throughout. The central mystery of the "39 steps" was skillfully woven into the plot, with a gradual unveiling of the truth, leading to an enjoyable and entertaining experience that runs exactly 2 hours including a 15-minute intermission. It goes by fast being that all the moving pieces do as well and the audience tries to catch up and not miss anything of what is happening. 

Yi-Chien Lee has been hard at work this year gracing theatergoers with her amazing set designs. Despite its simplicity, the design was practical and effectively framed the scenes, enhancing the overall storytelling along with Michelle Miles's lighting design and Patrick Duffy's sound design that gave added "umphs" to the punch lines as well as revealing moments that plumped the ongoing mystery. My personal favorite without spoilers, was a party disco scene that went on and off as the door opened and closed. That was pure calculated joy. Special shout out to stage manager Jessamyn Foster because it is they, the SMs that can make this magic happen performance after performance. However, the true stars of this production were the prop designs by Justin Magallanes, as they were essential tools for the actors to seamlessly switch between roles, changing mannerisms and attitudes with impressive speed. This added an element of excitement and made the performances highly enjoyable to watch. 

Melanie Mino and Chris Braden. Photo Photo Ken Jacques
As with every mystery, there are the good guys, the bad guys, the police guys, the seducers and seduced, etc, and the cast of 4 actors played all of them. Kaitlyn Slater's portrayals were exceptional, showcasing her fantastic comedic timing and bringing a witty, snappy, and charming presence to the stage. Alongside her, Melanie Mino also delivered, infusing the production with a touch of serious comedy. Marley Bauer as the framed Richard Hanay is the axis in which the events unfold, setting the rhythm and tone. Chris Braden is the man of the many voices, faces, and frequencies, prompting serious cackles from the audience. It was evident that Phil Johnson's direction played a significant role in bringing together these talented actors and their craft, resulting in a cohesive and well-executed production. Between 1939 and 1950, in Mexico "el teatro de carpa" which translates to "circus theatre", showcasing comedic icons such as Tin Tán or Palillo was the boom. 39 Steps reminded me of that. I also have to add that Scripps might be on to something with the pre-curtain speeches. Remember The Outsider? (if you know...you know).

This is a fun time out at the theatre with family and friends thanks to its blend of comedy, mystery, and talented performances. Proof of the creativity and skill of the entire production team, leaving the audience thoroughly entertained.

Currently playing until November 19. For performance days and times please click HERE.

Listen to Phil Johnson being interviewed in Downstage, the SD Theatre Critics Circle podcast HERE.

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