From left, Rebecca Ellis, Eric Lund, Ty Cobb and Duncan Hood in "The 39 Steps," continuing at Dignity Players through May 17. ( Photo by Bud Johnson for The Baltimore Sun / December 1, 2009)

Dignity Players' current production of John Buchan's "The 39 Steps," directed by Jim Reiter and starring Ty Cobb, Rebecca Ellis, Duncan Hood and Eric Lund, is a worthy tribute to famed suspense director Alfred Hitchcock.

The show, playing in Annapolis through May 17, is a stage phenomenon, providing savvy theatergoers an unforgettable evening. The production is a testament to the skills of Reiter, who has assembled a cast of the most gifted comic actors in the Annapolis region. Rarely do audiences witness such skilled improvisational performances from an ensemble.

Those talents are paired with inventive stagecraft: Rooms and cars are built instantly from trunks and other props as the audience looks on.

Originally a 1935 Hitchcock film based on Buchan's 1915 novella, "The 39 Steps" is about hero Richard Hannay, who is falsely accused of murdering counterintelligence agent Annabella Schmidt.

Hannay tries to protect Schmidt and thwart a spy organization called 39 Steps from stealing top-secret information, and he must go on the run to save himself and stop the spy ring.

Buchan's satire has three of the four cast members playing a boggling array of characters. Only Cobb, who plays Hannay, has just one role. Cobb defines the character, preening amused vanity as he's described as "a handsome young man with piercing blue eyes and a pencil mustache," and displaying the vigorous athleticism the role requires.

Cobb's Hannay interacts with three women — all skillfully played by Ellis: exotic spy Annabella Schmidt, lovely Pamela and shy Scottish farm wife Margaret.

Amazingly, Hood and Lund play more than 120 characters combined, including policemen, detectives, spies, crooks and assorted females of varying attractiveness. The two match each other in lightning fast change artistry.

The show is slated to be Dignity Players' final performance for some time. Artistic Director Mickey Lund has announced a hiatus.

Dignity Players' "The 39 Steps" continues through May 17, at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays at the Unitarian-Universalist Church of Annapolis, 333 DuBois Road, Annapolis. Tickets can be purchased online at dignityplayers.org or by calling 410-266-8044, ext. 127.