The many fine faces of Sammie Joe Kinnett

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Before reading this mini-review of The 39 Steps at TheatreWorks, I recommend reading Rhonda Van Pelt's interview with company artistic director Murray Ross in this week's Indy.

If you can't be bothered to do that, then just know that we're talking about a comedic adaptation of a classic Alfred Hitchcock movie, adapted by English actor and playwright Patrick Barlow, and directed here by resident fight director for the Denver Center Theatre Company Geoffrey Kent.

Yup, this ones a real screamer.

The 39 Steps is a whirlwind show, where four actors dash in and out scenes and costumes to play an abundance of lively characters with as many unique, cockney-like accents.

It's fast, fun and summed up on this stage in three simple words: Sammie Joe Kinnett.

Playing as the only non-Actors' Equity Association member of the quartet that includes TheatreWorks newbies Josh Robinson, Lindsay Rae Taylor and Justin Walvoord, our local boy steals the show, scene after scene.

Just watch this brief slideshow and try not to laugh at his costuming and expressions alone. (Hint: He's the big boy, which certain scenes of the play exploit to audience delight.)

All the actors get plenty of good bits in the incredibly physical show, and only a few gags outlive their initial delight by dragging on a few beats too long into tedious territory — like a good joke that doesn't know when to end. It's a reminder that less is more sometimes, where the potential punch is detracted from by an overly awkward pause for audience laughter that's not loud enough to justify it.

The staging and blocking are pretty brilliant overall, where simple items take on multiple functions — just watch what the manage to build a car out of — reminiscent locally of a Buntport Theater Company or Lucidity Suitcase Intercontinental performance.

But let's get back to Kinnett, who's simply a powerhouse here, even though Robinson's junior detective Richard Hannay is the theoretical protagonist. Kinnett and Walvoord's characters (because there are so many) are simply billed as "clown 1" and "clown 2" in the playbill, and they earn the most laughs as such.

But Walvoord tends to deliver more assists: the stage announcer to Kinnett's funnier Mr. Memory role, a hilarious, slack-jawed amputee to Kinnett's even funnier cokebottle glasses-wearing, mumble-mouthed, narcoleptic politician.

Kinnett's bio in the playbill, which I'm assuming he wrote, says that "the louder you laugh, the funnier we'll be." And my gut tells me that as much as he drew from the crowd on opening night Thursday, he drew more from the widely experienced Walvoord and Robinson.

Like in a Saturday Night Live sketch, it was evident that there were times the actors nearly made one another crack up out of character. Never shy to break the fourth wall, TheatreWorks is the arena for that, and its loyal audiences love it that way.

Notice I've mentioned no plot summary up to this point, because really, it's unimportant as a mere vehicle to name-drop other well-known Hitchcock works and exhaust the string of characters through a thin murder/mystery plot.

Don't pay attention to the finer points of the whodunnnit, as you would in a Hitchcock film, trying to solve the mystery. Keep your eyes fixed on the physical humor and ears tuned to the overblown dialects. Watch Kinnett closely, not that'd you'd be able to do otherwise, since he dominates.

To do all of this, you'll of course have to go see the show, which I'm obviously highly recommending.

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