The play is called "The 39 Steps" and I enjoyed about 20 of them.
Lyric Arts' production of the spoof of Alfred Hitchcock's classic comic thriller sets things up beautifully. Four actors, apparently in the same late-1930s time period when the play is set, take on dozens of roles in a mistake-prone staging of "The 39 Steps." Kyler Chase is always Richard Hannay, an Englishman who gets swept up in a pre-World War II spy plot, and Zoe Hartigan is usually Pamela, who gets handcuffed to Richard and is forced to help him get to the bottom of things. But Jake Sung-Guk Sullivan and Brendan Veerman are quick-changing marvels who can be a Groundskeeper Willie-like farmer one minute, a posh party hostess the next and a Nazi right after that.
The title — and, in fact, the entire plot — are just MacGuffins but the thing to know is that the characters take trains, cars and back routes through bogs before ending up where they started for a big reveal. Meanwhile, Richard and Pamela develop a hatred so intense that we know it's love.
The nimble cast — Sullivan and Veerman are particularly good — and director Scott Ford get things rolling on Peter Lerohl's handsome set, depicting a vintage theater's backstage area. The first act is fleet and funny, highlighting the artifice and unlikeliness of a production that attempts to put on stage things that are better suited to movies: car chases, footraces, runaway trains, etc.
Highlights of the first act include inventive use of a picture frame, which becomes a window, a movie screen and a painting in quick succession. There's also an action scene on that "train" — which, like just most of the set pieces, is really just a couple of trunks. The actors on the wind-blown train run through it, cling to its side and chase each other across the top of its rickety cars.
It's clear that the train sequence has been rehearsed until it's so perfect that we forget the trickery involved and just delight in its thrills.
In the second act, though, "39 Steps" becomes less sharp and more pleased with itself. Similar gags, such as Richard and Pamela handcuffed to each other on opposite sides of a fence, aren't as thoroughly worked out, and others are allowed to go on much too long. I've seen three productions of "39 Steps" and this one is 30 minutes longer than the best of those three.
"The 39 Steps" is a farce, which means it benefits from precision and leanness, both of which the second act lacks. And it's always a mistake to include a scene in which actors pretend they can't keep from laughing because of something they've done wrong.
I bet this production will speed up the longer it's performed and, hopefully, it will leave the laughing to us.
"The 39 Steps"
Who: Adapted by Patrick Barlow. Directed by Scott Ford.
When: 7:30 p.m. Thu.-Sat., 2 p.m. Sun. Ends Oct. 17
Where: Lyric Arts, 420 E. Main St., Anoka.
Protocol: Masks and vaccination (or proof of negative test) required.
Tickets: $29-$37, 763-422-1838 or lyricarts.org.