Theater Review: ‘39 Steps’ — Artists’ Ensemble’s final production of the season

By Edith McCauley
Theater Critic

If you are expecting a typical Hitchcock murder mystery, 39 Steps is not it. Richard Raether directs this madcap production at Rockford’s Artists’ Ensemble Theater (AE), and he couldn’t be more pleased with the production. He says “… it sounds simple: four actors and a few boxes. Add nearly 150 sound effects, over 100 lighting cues and 60 costume changes. See … simple!”

My daughter is my theater companion, and sharing with her my expectation of a typical Hitchcock mystery couldn’t have been more wrong. We were amazed and pleased with the absolutely hilarious comedy and the talented cast.

The four actors who recreate the innumerable scenes keep the audience’s complete attention throughout the entire play. Richard Hannay, played by Aaron Christensen, is based on a character created by John Buchan in his first novel, 39 Steps, written in 1915. This is Christensen’s debut performance with AE, and he centers much of the action.

David Gingerich and Michael Herold play multiple characters. Their timing is absolutely impeccable. In a few minutes, they manage simply by switching hats to become half a dozen different people. Erin Koroll plays the female characters. Costume changes, wigs and a stage presence unequaled brings balance to the play.

Herold is amazing. He momentarily changes from a detective in a raincoat and fedora to the wife of an innkeeper in her plaid skirt, speaking with a completely garbled Scottish accent that only her husband can translate. The audience was fascinated.

The entire evening seemed a play in search of a plot, but we were so busy following the action that it really didn’t seem important. The technical crew kept everything precisely on schedule. Making much of this possible is the purchase of new computer and sound design software, which will be shared with the Performing Arts Department of Rockford College. This equipment made much of the detail of the production possible.

Reviewing 39 Steps has been done with great difficulty. The non-stop action takes us through an evening of complete hilarity, and to write every detail is an impossibility, but you must see it to believe it. Do try to spend an evening at Cheek Theatre with these wonderfully talented people.

The show runs through June 30, Call (815) 394-5004 for ticket information.

From the June 26-July 2, 2013, issue

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