Tom Handel, Ross Cunningham and Andrew Elijah Edwards in a scene from “The 39 Steps” Photo courtesy of Molly Haley Photography

Countering the long slog that is winter, the Theater Project in Brunswick has taken steps to lift spirits with a laugh-filled production of what has become a worldwide favorite in recent years.

Patrick Barlow’s “The 39 Steps,” derived in part from the work of filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock, is an affectionate parody of classic thrillers that provides a perfect vehicle for audiences to forget all their troubles and get happy.

Four performers, most in multiple, quick-change roles, inhabit a minimal, imagination-required set in a production that veteran director Al Miller has kept faithful to the original play’s keep-the-motor-running-and-the-gags-coming, fast-paced style.

Andrew Elijah Edwards plays the “handsome” Richard Hannay, a bored, between-the-wars Brit who fatefully allows a femme-fatale into his apartment. Learning, once he deciphers her hilariously exaggerated accent, that she is in serious trouble, he’s drawn into a harrowing journey to Scotland to unravel the mysteries hinted at by the woman.

Edwards gets to play a (semi) straight man to a number of just plain comic and/or comedically threatening characters as he runs through the countryside in pursuit of elusive spies. Even in scenes where he may be hanging on for dear life, his Hannay’s charming wit stands ready to save him from defeat.

Dana Wieluns Legawiec, who begins as the shady lady, morphs into a suspicious train passenger and a rural housewife as the show proceeds. She adds degrees of a ravishing archness to several of the funniest scenes in the play.

Ross Cunningham and Tom Handel, listed as “clowns,” play a whole bunch of characters, often changing with the blink of an eye (and the switch of a hat). From wacky vaudevillians to underwear salesmen to both police officers and criminals, each actor adds personal touches while allowing the laughs within the material to shine through. Allusions to Hitchcock films, including a take on the famous aerial menace from “North by Northwest,” add to the zaniness these character actors effectively provide.

The sense of the magic of theater, notwithstanding that “The 39 Steps” is played for laughs, pervades through scenic (Danny Gay), lighting (Jim Alexander), sound (Ryan McGowan) and costume (Wendy Poole) designs that serve the on-the-run spirit of the production.

This latest show from the Theater Project traverses much theatrical territory while recalling a classic story where, despite the efforts of dastardly scoundrels, the good folks ultimately carry the day. Hold on to that thought.

Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.

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