With 105 characters played by only four actors, one can only imagine how crazy a show like “Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps” would be. Yet, director James Bond manages to walk the line of farce and mystery to bring this comedic thriller to life on the Theatre West stage, alongside his technical team of 21 and four actors, three of which have connections to WNCC.
The play stars Andrew Carlyle, of Chicago, who plays Richard Hannay, a bachelor who’s bored with his own life until he accidentally gets involved in a secret agent plot resulting in a nationwide manhunt after him. He meets three pretty ladies along the way — Pamela, Annabella and Margaret — each played by former WNCC theater instructor Francesca Mintowt-Czyz. The other 101 characters are played by two “clowns” Lemuel Grady, recent WNCC graduate, and Garrett Doremus, WNCC student.
These 101 characters aren’t anything easy either. The parody calls for a lot of physicality from all the actors, and Grady and Doremus are visibly sweating by intermission. Playing that many different, distinct characters takes a lot of work, they said.
“I’ve never had such a physically (demanding role). It costs for a lot of physicality, more than I’m used to in any other role I’ve been in,” Grady said. “I’ve gotten into pretty good shape.”
Doremus said, “It’s been a great experience, lots of exercise, lots of tough days, lots of fun days. … We’re just taking it day by day, one step at a time — there’s way more than 39, let me tell you.”
Bond pushes these two actors to their limits, asking them to get out of their comfort zone by dancing, doing stunts and making every single movement precise and comically meaningful.
“Working with our director, James Bond, he’s very specific, so you have to get even the littlest movements right. So, it’s just a lot of repetition, and you got to stick with it,” Doremus said. “But at the end of the day, it’s completely worth it. It’s completely worth it to get everything as picture perfect as we can to just make everybody laugh. (We) look a little ridiculous along the way, but that’s the fun in it.”
Both students are grateful for the opportunity to perform and work with industry professionals through Theatre West. Grady, who plans to attend Lindenwood University in the fall, said he’s grown so much because of this experience.
“I’m getting so much experience and a lot of work,” Grady said. “… I’d never expected anything like this. I mean, Francesca (Mintowt-Czyz) has opened up the door for so many opportunities, (as well as) Patrick Newell with Theatre West. It’s just surreal. I love it. I’m so thankful for it.”
For Doremus, it might actually solidify his career path.
“General studies (is my major) right now, so I’m still kind of undecided,” he said. “I’ve always really considered it (theater) but after this, I might have to go into it.”
These two aren’t the only WNCC students involved in the show. There are multiple students on the technical crew as well, including incoming sophomore Chastity Brown, who is working as a costume intern.
Brown said she never thought of herself as a backstage person — “I’m usually on stage” — but after working with Mintowt-Czyz this past year, she found a love for costuming and landed the gig interning with Theatre West.
“I got here (WNCC) and Francesca (Mintowt-Czyz) showed me that costuming is so wonderful and fun to do, and now it’s what I’m pursuing for a degree,” she said. “I never really thought I’d get this opportunity, and I’m so glad and thankful for Theatre West and Patrick (Newell) and Judy Chaloupka for letting me have this opportunity.”
Carlyle never thought he’d find himself in western Nebraska working with a director he hadn’t seen in nearly eight years, but he’s glad he did.
“I knew James (Bond), and I hadn’t known anybody at Theatre West,” he said. “This is one of the best teams ever. But I hadn’t known them before, and they are the loveliest group of people that I could ever imagine working with, not just the cast, but the entire crew. Everybody here is just so giving and willing to play and willing to do great work. It’s just an environment that’s really conducive for just putting on a good show and having a good time telling a good story.”
For Bond, he is glad to just be back in a traditional theater setting once again.
“I am from the east coast, and we are just spent a year not leaving our houses,” he said. “It feels like we can all breathe again and enjoy each other again. And this (play) feels like the right kind of thing to celebrate existing within a community once more.”
“Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps” will show on the Judy Chaloupka Theater at Platte Valley Companies Performing Arts Center on June 19, 25 and 26 at 7:30 p.m. each night. Tickets are $20 for adults, $18 for seniors and $10 for students. Flex passes, which allow a person to watch any four main stage shows throughout the season are $70 for adults, $60 for seniors and $35 for students.
“This show … is unlike anything else I’ve done, and I’ve done hundreds of shows,” Bond said. “One might think we’re making fun of Hitchcock, but we’re absolutely not. We’re being completely honest to what Hitchcock’s about but examining it differently. And that’s what’s fun: walking that line between the kind of comedy and being honest to our original source.”