Cumberland Times-News

October 21, 2012

We’re fortunate to have the Cumberland Theatre in our city

To the Editor:
Cumberland Times-News

— As the Cumberland Theatre celebrates its 25 years in the community, we should remind ourselves how lucky we are to have such a treasure in our midst.

No better way than to attend a performance of its current production of “The 39 Steps.” Having taken in a recent show, I fully intend to return at least once more, this time, hopefully, with friends.

What a delight, and not at all what one might expect if familiar with John Buchan’s classic counter-spy novel, set largely in the highlands of Scotland.

This version is an unapologetic spoof of Buchan’s masterpiece of suspense, first filmed by Alfred Hitchcock in 1935. It is a “take-off,” alternately witty and zany, not only of the original, but of others of the ilk.

There is the familiar mixture of suspense, surprise and dare-devil action, but all of it tongue in cheek and with a generous dose of music-hall goofiness. If you are a John Cleese fan, enough said.

This production absolutely dazzles. Friday night the audience, with their spontaneous rounds of applause and outbursts of sidesplitting laughter, confirmed my own reactions. And what a tour de force!

Four multi-talented actors play more than 30 times that number of parts. I, as a linguist, found their mastery of regional and social class British accents — with sudden departures into German — really impressive, especially when used for comic effect.

The lightening-fast costume and hair — and gender — changes alone are astounding. The set, within the necessary confines of the theater’s small and open stage, is ingenious, the use of a scrim with silhouettes on sticks is funny in itself.

The pace is unrelentingly brisk, the contortions and “gymnastics” unbelievable.

Performances run through Oct. 28 on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. For reservations, call 301-759-4990.

Robert Riggs