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SLO Rep's 39 Steps tackles comedy, mystery with a small cast 

One murder, 150 peculiar characters, and just four actors to play them all. It's a real head scratcher of a math problem, but one that the San Luis Obispo Repertory Theatre pulls off with grace and aplomb in its rendition of The 39 Steps, currently on stage in downtown SLO.

click to enlarge NOTHING TO SEE HERE Richard (Timothy Stewart, right) tries to lay low on a train bound for Scotland while being pursued for murder and sitting across from two chatty lingerie salesmen (Billy Breed and Cameron Parker). - PHOTO COURTESY OF RYLO MEDIA DESIGN
  • Photo Courtesy Of Rylo Media Design
  • NOTHING TO SEE HERE Richard (Timothy Stewart, right) tries to lay low on a train bound for Scotland while being pursued for murder and sitting across from two chatty lingerie salesmen (Billy Breed and Cameron Parker).

This very British madcap, whodunit murder mystery melodrama was adapted from the 1915 novel by John Buchan and the 1935 film by Alfred Hitchcock. The original concept and production of a four-actor version of the story was by Simon Corble and Nobby Dimon. Patrick Barlow rewrote this adaptation in 2005.

click to enlarge THROWN TOGETHER Fleeing from the police forces Richard (Timothy Stewart) and a dame who'd rather be anywhere else (Katie Worley-Beck) to share a bed in a room at a small inn in Scotland. - PHOTO COURTESY OF RYLO MEDIA DESIGN
  • Photo Courtesy Of Rylo Media Design
  • THROWN TOGETHER Fleeing from the police forces Richard (Timothy Stewart) and a dame who'd rather be anywhere else (Katie Worley-Beck) to share a bed in a room at a small inn in Scotland.

At the helm is guest director Jody Hovland, co-founder of Iowa City's Riverside Theatre (past SLO Rep credits include 2017's Rabbit Hole). Actor Timothy Stewart (SLO Rep's The Producers) is our hero, Richard. Katie Worley-Beck (The Great American Melodrama's The Holiday Extravaganza) plays three women, one mysterious and both an unwilling love interest and a longing one. Billy Breed (SLO Rep's The Producers) and Cameron Parker (SLO Rep's The Producers) play everything else, including nosey lingerie salesmen, a husband and wife running a small inn in Scotland, a dastardly villain, and an unwitting milkman. Worley-Beck, Parker, and Stewart are all alumni of Santa Maria's Pacific Conservatory Theatre (PCPA), and Breed cut his teeth at the North Carolina School of the Arts.

click to enlarge INTRIGUE When a beautiful woman and secret spy (Katie Worley-Beck, left) comes over to his apartment one night, everything suddenly changes for Richard (Timothy Stewart). - PHOTO COURTESY OF RYLO MEDIA DESIGN
  • Photo Courtesy Of Rylo Media Design
  • INTRIGUE When a beautiful woman and secret spy (Katie Worley-Beck, left) comes over to his apartment one night, everything suddenly changes for Richard (Timothy Stewart).

It's the 1930s and Richard is stewing in his bachelor apartment in London. Seeking some amusement, he decides to head to a show in the West End, where he meets a dark haired, mysterious spy woman (Worley-Beck) who invites herself back to his apartment. After briefly leaving the room, Richard comes back to find his companion has literally been stabbed in the back! And all the information she's left him with is something about 39 steps and the name of a particular man to find in Scotland. After becoming a murder suspect, Richard quickly flees the country via train to try and solve this mystery. Madness and hilarity ensue.

The cast makes use of a simple set and props, quick costume changes, and a few wigs to keep things moving along at a nice clip. I never wondered what time it was while taking in The 39 Steps on opening night, March 30. Stewart is believable and alternatingly charming and boorish as the wannabe detective Richard. Worley-Beck was so adept at switching between a spy, lonesome Scottish housewife, and a girl roped into Richard's quest, that I initially swore there were at least two women in the cast before double-checking the playbill. Breed and Parker provide a hefty dose of the show's humor as they step into every other single role with wit and charisma, switching accents and even genders along the way.

While all is revealed in an unexpected twist ending, it's the journey of watching a team of four actors transform a complex comedy that really, truly makes seeing The 39 Steps a night out on the town. Δ

Arts Editor Ryah Cooley needs a mystery. Send her leads at rcooley@newtimesslo.com.


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