REVIEW:  In these tough times, escape down Greater Boston Stage Company’s zany production of Hitchcock’s ‘The 39 Steps’

What are the 39 Steps?

Like so many Hitchcock creations, it’s complicated.  However, though this Hitchcock production is presented during Halloween season, please don’t let that scare you away.  The 39 Steps is based on John Buchan’s 1915 thriller novel by the same name, was adapted by Alfred Hitchcock into a classic British film in 1935, and adapted to the stage by Patrick Barlow.  Though The 39 steps will certainly keep the audience on its toes, it has more than its share of comedic moments sure to deliver more laughter than frights. 

Greater Boston Stage Company joyfully returned indoors to present Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller comedy mystery, The 39 Steps which continues through Sunday, October 10 at the Greater Boston Stage Company in Stoneham, MA.  The show runs approximately 2 hours and 15 min including an intermission.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Directed imaginatively by llyse Robbins, this dynamic crime noir boasts plenty of vintage flair as well as adventure, romance, comedy, and suspense.  However, what really makes this show such fun is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously.

KP Powell and Paul Melendy in ‘The 39 Steps’ Photo courtesy of Greater Boston Stage Company

The 39 Steps pay tribute to Hitchcock’s body of works with a catchy story while spoofing some of his most famous works along the way.  Vertigo and Rear Window is just a portion of the Hitchcock Easter eggs run amok in this production.  Some of the dark and witty humor from The 39 Steps call to mind humor likened to other murder mystery comedy classics including Clue.

Shelley Barish’s modest and multi-functional set design, Daisy Long’s mercurial lighting, and Andrew Duncan Will’s exceptional, carefully-timed sound effects play a pivotal role in some of the production’s most humorous scenes.  Moveable set pieces transform each scene and costume designer Rachel Padula-Shufelt’s colorful gowns, dynamic wigs, and tweed and paisley suits enliven the production’s vintage noir atmosphere. 

Taking on this production was no small feat for its four stellar actors who depict a total of 150 characters.  However, they were more than up for the task as they sometimes cleverly and quite literally switch roles at the drop of a hat or within seconds.  With impeccable timing and snappy chemistry, these dynamic performers bring to life a variety of accents and deliver a great deal of physical comedy while delivering sharp and at times quirky dialogue. 

Russell Garett, KP Powell, Grace Experience, and Paul Melendy in a makeshift car in ‘The 39 Steps’ Photo courtesy of Greater Boston Stage Company

Paul Melendy portrays Richard Hannay with a mix of bumbling and debonair charm.  Set in Scotland, he is a man on the run after a chance encounter with a femme fatale in all her forms by Grace Experience, leading to a murder mystery.   What Grace Experience does particularly well is though she depicts each character distinctly, they all have the same familiar strength, resourcefulness, and truthfulness as the tale unfolds.  With Russell Garrett and KP Powell quite often after Hannay, it’s a madcap adventure with high jinx galore and likable characters that range from a ludicrous man with ridiculous eyebrows to a flirtatious and outspoken innkeeper.  Some of the scenes are arbitrary and self aware and a couple of gags get a bit repetitive, yet fit right into the production’s silly charm.

From L to R: Russell Garrett, Paul Melendy, Grace Experience, and KP Powell in ‘The 39 Steps’ Photo courtesy of Greater Boston Stage Company

Take a break from these difficult times and escape down Greater Boston Stage Company’s unconventional, madcap, and lighthearted The 39 Steps continuing through Sunday, October 10.  Click here for more information, tickets, and for a closer look at Greater Boston’s Stage Company’s 22nd season.

REVIEW: A Far Cry makes a luminous and powerful onstage debut at South Shore Conservatory with ‘Circle of Life’

Forgive me for being excited.  This was the first music concert the Sleepless Critic has attended since 2020 and by none other than a Grammy-nominated group during the final days of summer.  For A Far Cry, it was not only this renowned chamber orchestra’s debut at the South Shore Conservatory, but their first set of live performances to kick off their 15th season after last season was done entirely virtually. 

Elegantly dressed in flowing dresses and suits, this Boston-based group of musicians couldn’t have been more thrilled to take the outdoor stage in front of a live audience again as the skies grew dark, the crickets chimed in, and the Amphitheater’s twinkling lights began to burn. 

Tackling life’s tumultuously journey from sweeping birth to a peaceful end, A Far Cry opened their new season with Circle of Life at South Shore Conservatory’s Jane Carr Amphitheater on Saturday, September 18 in Hingham, Massachusetts.  Click here to find out where A Far Cry will perform next.

Gearing up for A Far Cry that evening Photo courtesy of the South Shore Conservatory

A Far Cry’s Grace Kennerly offered a warm introduction as all 18 ‘criers’ took the stage for their opening work arranged by Alex Fortes of Bela Bartok’s Traditional Lullabies and For Children arranged by Leo Weiner.  This work of sweeping, wondrous, and charming lullabies also delivers bursts of foreboding and urgency through a solo violin.  Its soft, soothing strings create a dreamlike quality as the movement gallops toward exuberance and a sense of adventure.

A particular highlight of the concert lies within Franghiz Ali-Zaheh’s Shyschtar:  Metamorphoses for String Orchestra which is described as ‘the development of oneself in the teenage years.’  Instantly captivating, Metamorphoses evokes strife and a mysterious urgency, almost sounding like something borrowed from Hitchcock.  The carefully-timed violin plucking, occasional vocalizing, and haunting tapping enhances the work’s thrilling and suspenseful rhythms as the work builds to a searing climax before it takes an unexpectedly poignant tone and draws toward its eerie conclusion. 

A Far Cry’s Jason Fisher introduced Antonin Dvorak’s stirring Serenade for Strings.  This work carries its own quiet excitement as Dvorak wrote it while he and his wife were expecting.  It has occasional undertones similar to a wedding march and like Lullabies, a dreamlike quality and a gentle building of anticipation.  The lengthiest movement, Serenade for Strings delivers chirping peacefulness and quiet interludes with a touch of melancholy as it builds to an uproarious, gallivanting glee.

Karl Doty’s Castles, though it is Circle of Life’s shortest work, packs a no less powerful punch.  It has a vibrancy and incandescence that comes together in a rush.  With its occasional vocalizing, it evokes vitality, strength and a degree of reminiscing as this piece was written when Doty returned to his childhood home.

To complete the Circle of Life, A Far Cry performed Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 16 in F Major, Op. 135.  It’s a combination of a quiet musing, searing rhythm, and an intangible foreboding of the inevitable.  However, this piece also evokes a settling and resignation of what is to come.

Kicking off their 15th season on a powerful note with the exploration of life’s journey, A Far Cry will continue in October.  Click here for A Far Cry’s upcoming performances and here for more information on South Shore Conservatory’s upcoming events.

REVIEW: Normalcy takes an eerie detour in Hub Theatre Company of Boston’s ‘Solitaire Suite’

One thing rings true:  No good can come from a dying phone.

A dark highway and a last minute errand kick off the world premiere of Hub Theatre Company of Boston’s family-friendly supernatural thriller Solitaire Suite, a rich, engaging play by Trent England that explores a family’s strange occurrence over one evening.  With a dreamlike and tense score that underlies its various twist and turns, Solitaire Suite’s relatable cast are just part of what makes this as alluring a zoom production as it would be a stirring podcast.

Directed by Daniel Bourque, Solitaire Suite is nestled between two Shakespearean productions in Hub Theatre Company of Boston’s current season. While Shakespeare’s Much Ado about Nothing thrilled audiences last year and next is Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost in the spring, Hub Theatre Company of Boston took a break from soliloquies and bravado for this psychological thriller continuing on Hub Theatre’s YouTube page on live stream and on Hub Theatre’s Facebook page through Saturday, February 27. Tickets are on a pay-what-you-can basis.  Click here for more information.

Solitaire Suite Screen Shot courtesy of Hub Theatre Company of Boston

Having seen a few of Hub Theatre Company of Boston’s productions, it is refreshing to see them present such a vast array of work over the years from period pieces to dark fantasy to southern rom-coms and  now what is deemed twilight zone meets zoom. 

Marty Mason bears most of the weight of this production as Celeste, a former city-lover turned suburban mother whose mysterious son keeps her guessing.  She delivers a natural and nuanced performance, sharing the evocative, lively, and multi-layered account of her family’s evening.  Cristhian Mancinas-Garcia is charismatic as Celeste’s quick-witted and laidback husband Pete and Michael Lin portrays their introverted and mysterious son, Tiger.

Solitaire Suite veers off into different directions and each detail is a window into each character’s psyche.  The dramatic and haunting cinematography, with sound design and digital design by Kyle Lampe and Justin Lahue respectively, contributes to the production’s ominous and suspenseful tone that takes on not only some supernatural aspects, but the tension brimming just beneath the surface within this seemingly close family.

Solitaire Suite unpacks a lot within its under an hour runtime and though all your questions might not be answered, the production is thought-provoking well beyond the production’s close.

Solitaire Suite continues through Saturday, February 27 and is also available on Hub Theatre Company of Boston’s Facebook page. Click here for more information and their current production. Hub Theatre’s next production is Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost this spring.