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Queens Chronicle

Dozens of lives played by a quartet

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Posted: Thursday, February 21, 2013 10:30 am

When Alfred Hitchcock directed the spy thriller “The 39 Steps” back in 1935, little could he have imagined the hilarity the film would inspire three quarters of a century later.

’ play of the same name, adapted by Patrick Barlow from both the film and the novel that inspired it, opened on Broadway a few years ago and enjoyed a successful run there before settling in for another extended period off Broadway.

Now, courtesy of the Parkside Players in Forest Hills, the play is being given its first Queens production.

The play, like its sources, is filled with melodrama, spies, heroes, villains, murder, intrigue ... and lots of laughs, due primarily to the adapter’s choice to have all the parts — dozens of them — played by a total of four actors. This requires lots of quick changes, many in full view of the audience, and, on occasion, actors must play two or possibly even three parts simultaneously.

The cast at Parkside, four local theater veterans, all turn in positively madcap performances, under the watchful eye of director Susan Young.

The only actor in the quartet playing a single role, K.C. Schwab, has a field day as Richard Hannay, who finds himself on the lam throughout most of the play’s two-hour running time, including a brief period atop a speeding train. Schwab is most entertaining, thanks to his comic timing, physical dexterity and boundless energy.

On a rare departure from the musical stage, Monica Barczak turns in several memorable renditions as the women with whom Hannay becomes entangled.

And as a pair of clowns who take on every other role, including some of the opposite sex, Johnny Young and Ian McDonald must surely be two of the most tired actors around. They seemingly change personalities and accents effortlessly, make entrances and exits in unexpected places and provide much of the evening’s fun.

Well-timed sound effects and music that sounds like it could have been lifted from some of Hitchcock’s classic films add to the merriment, as do strobe light effects and shadow images projected on a makeshift screen.

There is virtually no set to speak of and only the simplest of set pieces, all of which are put to multiple and sometimes quite resourceful uses.

While it must be admitted that the second act rarely recaptures the quick pace and unbridled elements of surprise that mark the first half of the show, this is more the result of the play’s structure than the performance. Despite the challenges of the material, last Saturday night’s opening went off with nary a hitch.

Audiences interested in laughing out loud should put this on their must-see list.

‘The 39 Steps’

When: Feb. 22 and 23, March 1 and 2 at 8 p.m. and Feb. 24 at 2 p.m.

Where: Grace Lutheran Church, Forest Hills, Union Turnpike and 71st Road

Tickets: $14 and $12 seniors, (718) 353-7388

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