Parent’s-Eye-Review: ’39 Steps’ at Shakespeare & Company a laugh-out-loud farce

Elizabeth Aspenlieder and Jason Asprey in a scene from Shakespeare & Company's 39 steps

Photo by Kevin Sprague
Elizabeth Aspenlieder (as Annabella Schmidt, among others) and Jason Asprey (as Jason Hannay) are fabulous in Shakespeare & Company’s “39 Steps” now playing at the company’s Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre in Lenox, through Nov. 4.

Josh Aaron McCabe and David Joseph as Mr. Memory (right) and his sidekick in Shakespeare & Company's 39 Steps

Photo by Kevin Sprague
Josh Aaron McCabe and David Joseph were the men of 1000 costumes and dialects  in ’39 Steps’ now playing at S&Co. Above they play Mr. Memory (Joseph, right) and his sidekick (McCabe).

AUTHOR’S NOTE: This review represents a Parent’s-Eye-Review of local theater and is written by a mom, writer and editor who just happens to love theater. It is not written by a “professional” theater critic. I just like what I like, and I like to leave you, the reader, to make up your own mind about the theater productions I review. But you can’t do that unless you go see them, which I highly encourage you to do.

BY KELLY BEVAN

LENOX — Saturday night, Sept. 29, I experienced a theater production that could only be described as the play of a thousand costumes — and dialects. Shakespeare & Company’s “39 Steps,” was that and a whole lot more.

Having not seen the Alfred Hitchcock film of the same name from which this play was adapted, I went to the theater expecting a creepy rendition of, well, I’m not sure what. The press release promised mysterious women, impending assassinations and top-secret plots against the government. I was expecting a spy thriller that only Alfred Hitchcock could deliver, so you can imagine my surprise when I realized in the first three minutes that this was a fantastic spy thrilling farce, with overdone accents, hilarious death scenes and characters who continued to make the older gentlemen to my right laugh out loud throughout the entire first act.

As I sat watching scenes unfold before me that resembled something out of an old Charlie Chaplin film (but with sound,) I couldn’t help but wonder why I wasn’t laughing out loud along with that gentleman, and as I looked to my left, why wasn’t by theater companion (my friend Anne) laughing? The acting was fantastic. I mean really who can’t resist the charm of the main character, Richard Hannay, when played by Jason Asprey, with his absolutely intoxicating English accent, wit and spot-on comedic timing. And Elizabeth Aspenlieder, I’ve alway been a fan of hers personally, but when I finally got to see her on stage doing what she does best, I knew exactly why she’s an S&Co. favorite. Not to mention the absolutely ridiculousness in the back-and-forth bantering of David Joseph and Josh Aaron McCabe which even my 10-year-old would appreciate.

And then I realized why I wasn’t laughing; I hadn’t been expecting a comedy. I had passed over the words “hilarious adaptation” in the press release and went right to “of Alfred Hitchcock’s classic film.” And since I hadn’t seen the film, I was prepared for murder, mystery and mayhem that would have me scared right out of my seat. What I got was a 2012 version of a 1930s-inspired comedy farce that resembled something out of a Monty Python or Jim Carrey movie. I wasn’t laughing, because frankly this had never been my type of humor; it was my husband and my sons who loved stuff like this, not me! Or so I thought.

So when I re-entered the theater for the second act, I was determined to stop internally pouting that I wasn’t being frightened to the core (which I hate anyway), and I was going to laugh out loud along with the kind gentleman seated next to me. And I did, but it had nothing to do with my promise to myself. I laughed and I giggled, and I shook my head in disbelief, because the Second Act was even funnier than the first. David Joseph and Josh Aaron McCabe went into overdrive with the accents and costume changes. Elizabeth Aspenlieder and Jason Asprey made even a few minor mishaps on stage humorous (which I’m beginning to wonder after reading a few other reviews if they were actual mishaps at all). As a result, I just couldn’t resist joining in the standing ovation with the rest of the audience at the end of the production. The play was fun and silly and entertaining, and in all reality it was just what I needed that night.

Once again, Shakespeare & Company, you made me a believer in all that you do. And now that you have introduced me to the world of comical farces, I think I just might be up for a real Shakespeare one. Maybe …

“39 Steps” will play at Shakespeare & Company’s Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre in Lenox through Nov. 4. Tickets range from $15-$50. For more information visit shakespeare.org.

Berkshire Family Focus
Begun in June of 2012 by Berkshire County blogger, writer and mom Kelly Bevan McIlquham, Berkshire Family Focus is your one-stop source for family activities, events and more in the Berkshires of Massachusetts. From kid-friendly theater to family-focused museum exhibits, outdoor activities and more, we provide an up-to-date calendar of it all. Whether from the Berkshires or just visiting you are sure to find something to satisfy and entertain every member of your family in this online resource and guide. To have your event, business or family-friendly organization featured here, send press releases and detailed information to info@berkshirefamilyfocus.com.
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