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A roller-coaster ride

SMSU?theater to present the fast-paced and funny play ‘The 39 Steps’ as final show of the season

April 7, 2012
By Cindy Votruba , Marshall Independent

MARSHALL It's a show filled with action, humor, actors taking on multiple roles and accents and several references to Alfred Hitchcock.

The Southwest Minnesota State University theater department is presenting "The 39 Steps" at 7:30 p.m. April 12-14 and 20-21 and at 2 p.m. Sunday, April 22 in the SMSU Fine Arts Theatre. The play is being directed by guest director Lisa Nanni-Messegee, a professional director, actor and screenwriter from Virginia.

Nanni-Messegee said she had applied for the directing job and was told what show was going to be presented.

Article Photos

Photo Cindy Votruba
Randy Briest, Marcie Anderson, Sonja Nelson and Jason Shores rehearse a scene from “The 39 Steps,”?the upcoming production at Southwest Minnesota State University.

"I read through the play and thought 'oh my goodness, the play is a roller-coaster ride,'" she said. "There are plane crashes onstage. There is a train chase and the lead character has to fall off the fourth bridge in Scotland."

Plus, the actors have to take on several dialects, such as German, Scottish, proper British and Cockney, she said. The entire show is also played by just four actors, she said, with two of the actors, the "clowns," portraying 30 characters apiece.

"That's 60 costume pieces in some cases," Nanni-Messegee said. In same cases, the clown characters just put on a hat to adopt a new character, she said. "This is a very, very big show, but it's an exciting challenge."

Nanni-Messegee said the show is also challenging sound-wise as it will take two sound operators to run the show.

"It shows the magnitude of the play and what the demands are," she said. "I was excited by it. I love a good challenge and I love a good script and this has both."

Jason Shores, who portrays Hannay, the main male part, said this has been one of his most physically challenging roles. His character has to leap through a window, climb three A-frame ladders set up as bridges and is handcuffed throughout act two to a woman.

Since Nanni-Messegee lives in Virginia, the actors had to audition for her via video. She said that videotaped auditions are done all the time in film and television to see what the actors look like on camera. Sixteen tried out for "The 39 Steps," and the auditions were sent to Nanni-Messegee file by file.

"It was a different approach (for them)," she said.

But with the videos, she can see the auditions more than once, Nanni-Messegee said.

"Sometimes your first impression may not be the best impression," she said. And an advantage with a videotaped audition, she said, is you get more time to see actors and perhaps notice something you didn't see in the first viewing.

SMSU freshman Randy Briest was one of the 16 who auditioned and is playing one of the clowns. He said he couldn't believe it at first that he got a role when he saw the cast list.

"I had to look again," he said.

Briest said his SMSU theater debut has been demanding but fun.

"It's a very intense experience, and at the same time, it's a wonderful and new challenge," he said. Some of the changes he makes from character to character "literally take place on the stage," he said. "The play is very heavy on physical humor."

"The 39 Steps" also marks Briest's first time on the SMSU Mainstage.

"It was quite a big leap from high school to college," he said. He said it's been a learning experience to be in a professional theater environment.

Nanni-Messegee said the show, which is adapted by Patrick Barlow from John Buchan's novel and Hitchcock's film, has a certain appeal.

"If you're an Alfred Hitchcock fan, you're gonna love this play," Nanni-Messegee said. "Even if you're not one and love to laugh, you will love this play."

Nanni-Messegee said the cast will be doing some funny nods to Hitchcock himself in the play and spoof some of his other movies.

"This play is really an homage to him," she said.



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