Comedy and mystery collide at the 39 Steps

Espionage, murder and eccentric Scottish people all came together in the Tower Theater this past weekend for the sold out opening of the latest Theater Department production, “The 39 Steps.”

Who’s who — The five person cast of The 39 Steps adopt multiple characters throughout the play. Photo credit: Ruth Bibby

The play tells the story of Richard Hannay, played by Kyle Rodgers, who is frustrated with his mundane life. One night, he meets a suspicious German woman named Anabella Schmidt, played by Lindsey Register, who comes back to his apartment to him. She reveals that she is actually a secret agent being chased by a secret organization known as the 39 Steps.

In the middle of the night, Anabella is murdered, which is the beginning of a hilarious journey as Rodger’s character’s ordinary life is quickly turned upside down as he searches for answers and tries to clear his name of the murder, trekking to Scotland, evading the police and dodging bullets. And, of course, finding love along the way.

According to Director Neal Brasher, the play was originally a novel written by John Buchan in 1915 and was then adapted to a movie by Alfred Hitchcock in the 1930s. Brasher notes that Liberty chose a comedic adaptation, which spoofs the a movie adaptation made by Hitchcock.

“It’s sort of making fun of this mid-20th century spy movie suspense, but it’s not putting it down,” Brasher said. “It’s celebrating and spoofing it at the same time. I feel like it’s a well-rounded production because you get the fun and excitement of a suspense spy thriller, but you get some incredible laughs poking fun at it.”

“The 39 Steps,” with its slapstick humor, witty dialogue and comedic timing, provides laughs beginning to end. This comedic aspect was what attracted many members of the cast, such as Elizabeth Wallace, into doing the play.

“It’s just such a witty piece and so well written, and I love comedy, so it was a really good piece,” Wallace, who plays Pamela, said. “It’s so encouraging to be backstage and hear this uproarious laughter at these jokes.”

Probably one of the most notable aspects of the play is the fact that it can do so much with so little. Five actors playing over 50 roles provide the same over the top amusement as a larger cast could, as costume changes occurred in seconds and typical role rules were broken. The cast also adopted numerous accents throughout the play, several of them working with a voice coach to perfect a Scottish dialogue and drawing on skills learned in a Stage Accents class.

Patti Sherman and her daughter were visiting Liberty for College for a Weekend and both thought the small cast was the most enjoyable part of the show.

“It was phenomenal. They were fabulous actors and actresses, especially with only five of them. It made the play even funnier,” Sherman said.

The play’s minimalism also carries into the set design and props. Instead of an elaborate set to depict the various places the characters travel to, the play draws heavily on audio and visual effects. The sparse set allows for more focus on the actors’ talent and leaves the audience free to imagine. In one scene that takes place on a train, the actors simply sit on crates facing each other, allowing audio elements and body movements to indicate their setting.

“I love the way that they’re able to play with things that you know are not happening but the audience accepts it,” senior Adam Parker said. “It’s so minimalistic and it allows the audience to imagine with them.”

Alex Miller played numerous different roles throughout the production, including a train conductor, hotel manager, villain and old man. Though “The 39 Steps” is only at the Tower Theater until Tuesday, March 27, he encourages everyone to come out to future shows for a fun, unique experience.

“Every time you come to a play, you get a different experience. When you come to a play you never know what to expect,” Miller said.

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