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A Trivia Race: Romping Through “The 39 Steps”

by | Jul 17, 2021 | Arts & Entertainment, News, Top Left Box

A madcap romp is bubbling at the Davidson Community Players Armour Street Theatre—a classic mystery thriller, The 39 Steps, directed by Stuart Jonap. Four actors play some 30 roles depicting more than a hundred characters in such rapid succession that there’s barely enough time to absorb them all, from one laugh to the next.

The 39 Steps is the third play produced on Davidson Community Players’ indoor stage in just over a month, celebrating the end of the long Covid-19 intermission, when theatres went dark all around. What a whirlwind catch-up!

The title of the play is familiar. We may not have read John Buchan’s 1915 original novel, loosely adapted by Patrick Barlow from Simon Corble and Nobby Dimon’s original concept. But we’ve heard of Alfred Hitchcock, who made a very popular film with the same name in 1935. Hitchcock connected to trivia? The 39 Steps sound designer, Joey Schnople, understands. He designed a musical score for the DCP production with familiar strains from Hitchcock’s vast repertoire of films—much to the audience’s recognition and delight.

Richard Hannay, a bored Englishman, meets a strange woman with a foreign accent, one of the roles portrayed by Zendyn Duellman, who is murdered at his home. Accused of the crime he didn’t commit, Hannay flees the streets of London to the Scottish Moors, dodging an unending stream of wild characters while attempting to unravel the secret to be found in The 39 Steps.

Alan Martin, Clown 1, and Lauren Ragsdale, Clown 2, play this stream of characters in such rapid, riotous succession, changing hats, coats, posture, and accents so fast, it’s almost hard to keep up. They are hilarious!

Two newcomers to the Armour Street stage are winners, keeping The 39 Steps alive. DCP was fortunate to cast Dan Miller as Hannay, a dignified English gentleman brandishing a lovely pencil-thin mustache. Dan’s British accent never falters, and his agile, below-the-waist contortions are a hoot.

Lauren Ragsdale is a gem. A dramatic arts senior at UNC Chapel Hill, she captivates the audience from the moment she opens her mouth. Lauren delivers a non-stop variety of characters with many different accents and alternating tones, changing behavior patterns in quick succession. Male or female, ridiculous or prim, Lauren’s transitions are magical.

Despite DCP’s inventive stagecraft, the production sometimes drags, perhaps because  the four actors serve as stagehands as well. It might be clever for actors to reset scenes, but with so few hands to rearrange bulky props on the intimate stage at Armour Street, it doesn’t work. The result is distracting—noisy, clunky, and slow—and takes the actors out of character. It’s time to dump the reusable cubes.

Otherwise, the set designed by Paul Swanson is imaginative, with an intricate pattern for door relocation, fantastic use of a window, and a handsome, accessible overhead loft.

The 39 Steps may have been conceived a century ago, but its humor still works today. There’s always room for laughter, and the mystery adds to the fun. Thankfully, Davidson Community Players knows how to deliver the goods.

Connie Fisher

Connie Fisher, neé Consuelo Carmona, is a Davidson resident who grew up in Mexico City where she became a journalist and acquired a taste for the theatre. Her preference for work behind the scenes led to an interest in writing reviews—Yale Rep among her favorite troupes. Connie is the author of Doing it the Right Way, the biography of an Italian hatmaker. Her prose appears with 87 other international writers in The Widows’ Handbook. An active, founding member of Lake Norman Writers, Connie just released her latest book, "The Mongrel, Bi-cultural Adventures of a Latina-Scandinavian Youth," a memoir about her years growing up in Mexico.​

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