Eastern Mennonite University’s Main Stage spring production, “The 39 Steps” is a zany fast-paced Alfred Hitchcock spoof. Other descriptions of the award-winning Broadway show include energetic, chaotic, quirky and packed with laugh-out-loud humor.
“The 39 Steps” runs March 31-April 8 with 7:30 p.m. evening performances March 31 and April 1, 6 & 8, and 3 p.m. matinees Sunday, April 2 and Saturday, April 8.
“This production is a mashup of Looney Tunes, Charlie Chaplain, Monty Python, and good old-fashioned spy thrillers,” said director Justin Poole, professor of theater.
Poole wanted actors who take risks and are “great, generous collaborators.” In part, because the seven-character ensemble takes on over 100 roles, including inanimate objects —floor lamps, telephones, armchairs.
At a recent rehearsal, it’s clear Poole got the cast he needed. Their commitment and enthusiasm are palpable. In addition—they appear to be having fun.
“I’m honored to be working with such a dedicated group of student actors and crew,” Poole said. “They never cease to exceed my expectations.”
Show grows out of research and improv
The ensemble’s preparation included watching favorite videos of old film clips, sketch comedy shows, and cartoons, following by a discussion on how their research could inform performance choices.
The show also has grown out of improvisations and the actors’ creativity and unique interpretation, said Clara Bush. The junior theater major plays the three main female roles. “It isn’t like a standard play you would go to see. It is inventive, truly special, and absolutely hilarious. I have laughed harder working on this show than I have in a long time.”
Comedies play an important role in building community, Poole said. “They remind us of one of the most vital aspects of our shared humanity: a sense of humor.”
Make ’em laugh
The players take their work seriously, perfecting a frenetic pace of humorous antics and accents. Props suddenly appear and disappear; sets move constantly and an abundance of sound effects and Hitchcock’s atmospheric music come together in an intricate choreography, thanks to Poole’s staging and his competent cast and crew.
Senior theater major Jeremiah Hines moves flawlessly through the chaos as Clown Member 3. His job one minute is to move an interactive set piece and in the next moment, he becomes a floor lamp and telephone. In addition, his responsibilities include creating ambient sounds and sound effects.
“Throughout the entire play, I play a clown character that makes the world appear and disappear,” he said.
Because the show isn’t meant to be taken seriously, audiences can “sit back and enjoy the ride,” Poole said. “This piece is pure entertainment. I think that people of all ages will enjoy the high comedic energy of the actors. It’s like watching a highly choreographed magic show with dynamic comedic performers.”
Tickets are available through EMU’s box office online at emu.edu/box-office or by calling 540-432-4582 between 10:30 a.m.-2:30 pm weekdays. Tickets vary from $9-14. EMU students $5.
“The 39 Steps” Cast and Crew
Collin Dutt: Hannay
Clara Bush: Pamela, Margaret, Annabella
Emma Roth: Clown 1
Abigail Greaser: Clown 2
Jeremiah Hines: Clown 3
Robert Weaver: Clown 4
Dylan Peachey: Clown 5 (assistant stage manager)
Jim Clemens: Musician
Ethan Eldred and Esther Ajayi: Sound and Foley
Ezrionna Prioleau: Stage Manager
David Vogel and Phil Grayson: Lights and sets
Holly Labbe: Costumer