Farce and slapstick comedy can be challenging for any actor. The timing must be precise, the rhythm must never drag, and the moments must be captured with crystal clear accuracy. If one of these components is off, even the slightest bit, it can be disastrous. Therefore, when I heard the New York Deaf Theater was tackling, The 39 Steps, I was very intrigued and a little concerned. Could deaf actors pull off a highly technical show in this genre? I had to see for myself, and the answer is a big fat yes!
The play opens with Richard Hannay, a middle aged man suffering from boredom. He decides to go to the theater as an escape. Well, he gets more than he bargains for and after a series of coincidences he finds himself being accused of murder. The rest of the play deals with Hannay trying to escape the police and uncover the truth about The 39 Steps. Like most great comedies, Hannay finds himself in awkward situations that he is somehow able to squeal his way out of time and time again until the startling climax.
This is the basically the simple plot of The 39 Steps. However, its execution is far from simple. We have four actors and three of them play many different roles throughout the story. They are always putting on clothed something or taking something off, often in a literal blinking of an eye, This organized chaos provides a lot of the humor in the play. And for the most part, the cast doesn’t miss a beat. Actor and director, James W. Guido and his partner Anna Tomasetti are stellar. The two go flawlessly from one hilarious character to another. Their skill is quite impressive. Garrett Zuercher plays Richard Hannay very well. He is undeniably expressive and delivers in every scene. Although good, Carmen King lacked the same amount of high energy as her other cast members. This made her scenes fall a little flat. Yet, I was blown away that I could follow the story without any words being spoken vocally.
On the side of the stage were four speaking actors who provided audible language so that people who don’t speak sign language can follow the play. Don’t get me wrung the vocal actors were wonderful, but the deaf actors told the story so well physically, that we could follow the story without voices. I left this performance feeling inspired. As a disabled artist myself, it was validating to see other actors in the same boat, steal the show. But don’t go see the show because of their disabilities, go see the show (like you would any other show) because it’s great!
The 39 Steps plays through Nov. 24th at TADA Theater , 15 W 28th St. 2nd Floor. http://www.nydeaftheatre.com/nydt_tickets.php