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Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2011

Cute Comedy Paces Milwaukee Rep’s ‘39 Steps’

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Classic suspense cinema runs swiftly across the stage in two hours of comedy as the Milwaukee Rep brings Patrick Barlow’s The 39 Steps to the Quadracci Powerhouse. Four actors play numerous roles in this sophisticated comic tribute to the classic cloak-and-dagger suspense story.

The show leans heavily on a behind-the-curtain feel. Bill Clarke’s set has the look of a stylish, decaying cinema palace. With a few odd props, the four actors create nearly a scene-for-scene rendering of the classic Hitchcock film. Aside from occasional effects of sound and lighting, the actors themselves render the distinct feel of trains, chases and fierce Scottish winds. It’s cute, light comedy that pays homage to one of Hitchcock’s early efforts.

More than 30 actors appeared in the original film. Three members of the cast share the bulk of the roles in this version. Reese Madigan, the lone actor in the ensemble with just one role, plays charismatic everyman Richard Hannay, who gets caught in a maze of intrigue on a perfectly ordinary trip to the theater. Madigan has demonstrated classic leading-man charisma before. Here he has a chance to exercise precise comic instincts in a detailed, fast-paced show. The cast also includes Rep comic talent Gerard Neugent, who puts in a typically charming series of comic performances. The newer faces, John Pribyl and Helen Anker, maintain high energy throughout the show.

The Milwaukee Rep’s production of The 39 Stepsruns through Feb. 13 at the Quadracci Powerhouse. For tickets, call 414-224-9490.