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For a fun night of mystery and murder, see ‘The 39 Steps’

In less than two hours, you can meet a spy, a professor, a bored man, some cops, Mr. Memory, Scottish innkeepers and a murderer.
Well, the list goes on and on. How could Piedmont Players Director Reid Leonard fill out such a huge cast at this time of year?
Easy — it’s only four people.
You’ll be surprised what Austin “Bulldozer” Young, Alisha Schreffler, Edward Whitney and Benjamin Thomas can do with the plot of Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller, “The 39 Steps.” Except this time, it’s John Buchan’s “The 39 Steps,” adapted by Patrick Barlow from an original concept by Simon Corble and Nobby Dimon. Too many cooks spoil the pot? No way.
If you feel a bit confused at the beginning, just hold on and see what happens. As the story unfurls, all will be revealed — well, most will be revealed, anyway.
Young, as Richard Hannay, is the only actor who plays just one character. The good-looking man with the pencil mustache is the hapless victim of a devious plot to steal secrets about England’s air defenses and turn them over to the enemy.
Will our hero let that happen? Of course not!
Do pay attention to what’s going on. Each bit of action is important to the next bit and you need to keep up with the story. There are funny bits that aren’t understandable, but that’s the point. Other funny bits that are hard to understand may be due to the frequent costume changes Clown 1 (Whitney) and Clown 2 (Thomas) have to make.
Whitney, who was so frightening in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and so funny in “Spamalot,” makes a lovely lady. At times, he’s a Brit, at times he’s a Scottish woman no one can understand. The British, Scottish and German accents come and go — getting a little muddy once in a while, but since this is a comedy, anything goes. Maybe they’re supposed to get muddled.
Shreffler is at first a German spy and later a blonde woman on a train who gets mixed up in the mess.
It’s Whitney and newcomer Thomas who do much of the comedic bits. First they’re Mr. Memory and his friend, then cops, then spies, then ladies, then — well, you just have to keep track. Most of the time they’re not what they say they are.
While Whitney is a lovely lady, Thomas is a creepy professor who knows the secret. What secret? The 39 steps! Haven’t you been keeping up?
Hannay has to stop the information about air defenses from leaving the country, but he has to know the secret of the 39 steps, too. The creepy professor/spy will never reveal it! And Hannay doesn’t even know what the military secret is! But he must prevail!
The first act is a mere 45 minutes, followed by an intermission, and the second act is a whirlwind of chases, gunshots, escapes, chases, revelations, chases, escapes, clues, chases, escapes, clues.
A clever denouement wraps up the mystery and the secrets. Does our hero survive? Who do you think is telling the story?
“The 39 Steps” is clever, witty, punny, fast-paced. It’s an enjoyable evening that will keep you guessing and laughing as the four actors play uncounted parts, and all with gusto and sincerity. Spend an evening with them. They deserve the applause.
“The 39 Steps” continues tonight and Saturday and Dec. 11-14 at 7:30 p.m. at the Meroney Theater in downtown Salisbury and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. It is underwritten by Robert E. Aiken, Wells Fargo Advisors. For tickets, call 704-633-5471 or online at www.piedmontplayers.com.

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