Reviewed by George Basler

If pure silliness is your cup of tea, head to the Cider Mill Stage this coming weekend to see The 39 Steps, which is being staged by BLAST (Bold Local Artists of the Southern Tier).

Despite some slow moments, the production, which opened last weekend (April 5-7) at the Endicott playhouse, provides two hours of inspired silliness. It’s a thoroughly entertaining romp reminiscent of the Marx Brothers and Monty Python comedies.

The award-winning play by Patrick Barlow is a parody of the classic 1935 spy film directed by Alfred Hitchcock which, in turn, was based on the genre-defining 1935 novel by John Buchan.

The play contains all the standard elements of a thriller: an intricate plot, nefarious villains, a dashing hero and a femme fatale. But the action is played for laughs. There is not a serious bone in the BLAST production as it offers madcap antics, sight gags and moments of sparkling physical comedy.

The convoluted and totally absurd story begins when bored British businessman Richard Hannay (Adam Holley) seeks to assuage his ennui by attending, what he terms, a mindless theater performance. (When Holley steps out of character to mention that this is taking place at the Cider Mill Stage, he drew a huge laugh from the opening night audience.)

At the theater, Hannay is buttonholed by a mysterious woman in black (Marjorie Loughran), who tells him she is on the run from spies. Hannay invites her back to his flat, which is a huge mistake when she winds up dead. He is soon on the run as he tries to stop a plot to steal vital British secrets and clear himself of a murder he didn’t commit.

Along the way he encounters bumbling police inspectors, screwy henchmen, a villainous mastermind, a sour-dispositioned Scottish farmer, the farmer’s sex-starved wife, eccentric Scottish innkeepers and, of course, a glamorous blonde who takes an instant dislike to Hannay but winds up in his arms by the end of the play.

Much of the humor in Barlow’s play stems from the fact that only three actors play all the roles, except for that of Hannay. A gripping plot and sparkling dialogue are not the play’s strengths. Instead, what drives the show are moments of physical comedy. This requires directorial finesse, spot-on timing and high energy performances. All are present in the BLAST production.

Credit goes to director Kate Murray, who has done a first-rate job maintaining the play’s energy and purposefully daffy tone. The more low-tech the effects, the funnier the results. A case in point is the staging of the chase on a moving train in which Hannay escapes the police. Another is a “rip off” of the classic crop duster scene from North by Northwest in which the villains try to rub out Hannay by spraying him with machine gun bullets.

Holley’s performance is a skillfully funny send up of upper-class British mannerisms and attitudes. He pulls off the difficult balancing act of portraying a suave leading man while also winking at audience members to let them in on the joke.

Loughran is equally good in a broadly comic turn as a doomed German spy, a besotted Scottish farm wife and the classic Hitchcockian blonde heroine. The performance requires her to change accents, which she does so admirably. She and Holley also effectively play off each other in their scenes together.

That being saida key element in the success of The 39 Steps’ is the performances of Mark Durkee and Richard Aton. Billed as Clown 1 and Clown 2, they portray a parade of outlandish characters in grand comic style. Their antics, which require spot-on teamwork, are great fun to watch. This is especially true when they wind up in drag as some of the characters.

Credit also goes to Gabrielle Button and Mike Kane who designed the lighting and sound that create the play’s atmosphere. The stage crew, Nathan Butler and Wendy Germond, deftly make the scenery changes.

The 39 Steps is such grand entertainment that it’s almost unfair to point out some shortcomings. The characters are paper thin. The zaniness begins to wear a bit thin by the end of the second act. The final scene, which is supposed to be the climax, is surprisingly flat. Part of the problem is Barlow’s lax writing, which has a “let’s get it over with” feel. It’s disappointing.

These quibbles aside, the BLAST production provides smiles and laughs galore. Its goal is to provide an evening of light entertainment, and BLAST achieves that goal with great aplomb.

IF YOU GO: Performances of The 39 Steps will continue this weekend (April 12-14) at the Cider Mill Stage, 2 Nanticoke Ave., Endicott. Friday and Saturday performances are at 7:30 p.m.; the Sunday matinee is at 2:30 p.m. Tickets at $28 are available at or by calling 607-321-9630. Accessible seating is offered for those who need it, and snacks and beverages are available for purchase.