‘The 39 Steps’ leads to wild ride

by Maggie Phelps, Central Hardin High School

“The 39 Steps” tends to be a production that most people are unfamiliar with.  The Alfred Hitchcock inspired play usually implies that it is a show relating to thrillers and horrors.  However, this could not be farther from the truth.   

HSJI Feature and Opinion writing class attends the July 13 performance of “The 39 Steps” at Wells-Metz Theater. Photo used with permission of Kris Brown.

Indiana University Summer Theater (IUST) brings the production to life at the Wells-Metz Theater from July 7-30. The cast and crew has worked diligently to produce their interpretation of the show, especially during moments of hardship.  The team was able to persevere through illness on staff and a delayed opening in order to deliver a memorable performance. 

The book was published in 1915 and the movie adaptations followed in 1935 and 2008.  The original production consisted of a four person cast.  However, IUST adjusted the cast size to accommodate six people.  Despite the growth in cast, a unique set of challenges was still delivered, said lead actor Grant Goodman who plays Richard Hannay.

Other elements of modernization is the interpretation of the lead character Pamela Edwards portrayed by Leah Mueller.  Mueller said that Pamela was adapted to fit into Act I of the play as opposed to only appearing in Act II.  Pamela was also given the role of a journalist, something that was missing in the original material of the production. 

Goodman, who has a long history of working on Shakespeare productions that carry a more serious tone, said he’s never worked on such a farce before, but he has enjoyed getting to be a part of a show as unique as this.  

The lights go low on the stage and the actors begin to appear.  They display the first of their many characters and while they do not speak in the beginning, the personality of each individual shines through and it is made clear that this production is nothing short of just that, a farce. 

Goodman said that the intention of the production is to make people laugh.  He said that the best shows are the ones where he knows that the audience has come to have a good time. 

There is no choice but to be impressed with the ability between the small cast to deliver over 150 characters that are so vastly different from one another.  

Joey Cerone (Clown 1) and Bobby Ayala Perez (Clown 2) convince the audience of their talents with their seamless ability to switch between two characters in the matter of an instant, sometimes playing the same character at once. There is an everlasting image in the audience’s mind of the two switching back and forth between a train conductor and a police officer. 

Cerone and Perez continue to captivate the audience by constantly delivering humor and emotion.  They make it easy for Goodman to bounce off their humor and deliver laughs to the audience for the majority of the production. 

The work delivered by Jessica O’Brien (Clown 4) is completely convincing.  O’Brien is able to set the tone of the entire production through her portrayal of Annabella and delivers a spark to the show that the Act I would be missing without her.  

As this character fumbles around Richard Hannay’s apartment and makes herself welcome in his home, the audience becomes infatuated with her movements and the way she commands attention.   Through this one role she is able to set the intentions for the production due to the everlasting humorous element of her character. 

The chemistry between Goodman and Mueller is undeniable.  The pair works together in an effortless way to clearly deliver the plot of the play but also keep in touch with the comical element of the production.  The moment in the production when the two become entangled in a fence is not only memorable but showcases to the audience how engrossed they are in the minds and mannerisms of their character.

The show stopping performance doesn’t stop with the cast on stage.  The tech crew delivers an amazing element to the show through their cues of lights and sounds.  Most notably during the party scene at Professor Jordan’s house and whenever a cast member mentions “the 39 steps.”

Director Jenny McKnight described “The 39 Steps” as a ride that the audience goes on. 

Throughout the entirety of the production, the cast is working tirelessly to get the audience on board with the comical elements of the production.  

Due to their stellar performance, it is nearly impossible for the audience to not enjoy the ride that they embark on when seeing this production.