Blue Barn Theatre artistic director Susan Clement-Toberer was looking for a season-closing show that would be as challenging as last year’s musical “Spring Awakening” — but comedy instead of drama.
What she found was “The 39 Steps,” a stage adaptation of the 1935 Alfred Hitchcock movie that uses just four actors to play more than 70 parts. The fast-paced whodunit requires lightning-fast changes in settings and costumes.
Actors sometimes play several characters within the same scene, turning this serious spy story into comedy that has an almost vaudevillian feel.
The show is a challenge not only to the actors. Minimalist scenery, to keep things moving through 32 scene changes, means that more of the burden of clarity falls on props and sound.
Luckily, the Blue Barn has Amy Reiner, former props master at the Omaha Community Playhouse, on staff. As usual, she’s creating many of the props from scratch.
Martin Magnuson, award-winning veteran sound designer at the Blue Barn, located a soundscape for the show created by the Barter Theatre in Abingdon, Va., last year and tailored it to this stage’s particular needs.
The challenge for director Clement-Toberer is to make sure, amid the crazy situations and laugh-inducing mayhem, that the romantic storyline is not lost.
“It’s been exciting to work alongside the actors, coming up with ways to get from one scene to another without stopping,” she said last week. “I’m attracted to the structure of a piece, how to move it along” through London and Scotland, plus plane, train and automobile scenes, among others.
Some key scenes take place in a theater. For those, box seats have been built out in the auditorium, augmenting the playing area in the tiny theater.
Hitchcock fans will love the show, Clement-Toberer said, because it’s so true to the movie.
“But people who have never heard of ‘The 39 Steps’ will love it, too. It’s a melodrama with a lot of old-world aesthetic to it. And it’s a true Blue Barn show because of the storytelling skills needed, both high-tech and old-school.”
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