By Lauren Shook
ESU’s Theatre Department presented “The 39 Steps” Feb. 28 through March 5. This performance united mystery and comedy in a surprising way that I never anticipated.
“The 39 Steps” follows the escape of Richard Hannay, played by John Lauri, who is being framed for the murder of Annabella Schmidt, played by Abigail Witt.
However, this is not the only role that Witt plays in this production. The actress also plays Pam and Margaret, two other recurring female characters throughout the play.
One of the most interesting and entertaining aspects of the play was how many character changes occurred.
“Two of the actors play about 13 different characters, and they have numerous costume changes that happen on stage in the middle of a conversation,” stated Alison Wieder, the production’s Stage Manager.
These character changes were largely made by Clown 1 and Clown 2, played by Luis Angel Feliciano Cruz Jr. and William Barreto, and were absolutely some of my favorite parts of the performance.
The difficult work in memorizing so many different parts was extremely impressive, as was their ability to keep the audience howling with laughter.
One scene even depicted Feliciano and Barretto making consistent character changes on stage. They seamlessly switched between several different characters, utilizing different props to establish whom they were playing.
Another interesting feature of this performance was the presence of the “Kurokos.”
As stated in the play’s program, “Kuroko, the Japanese word for ‘black clothes,’ is a term applied to stagehands in traditional forms of Japanese theatre.”
The two Kurokos, played by Nicholas Kwietniak and Katie French, also added a lot of humor to this mysterious play. The Kurokos played anything from live police officers to inanimate objects such as windows and doors.
“There is a lot of slapstick humor in this play, and the Kuroko characters have helped create some of that,” stated Wieder.
The set for the play was also impressive in that it needed to be able to support the many scenic changes throughout the performance.
Set designer, Emma McDonough, did an impressive job creating a set that utilized the space well and supported the content of the play.
“Since ‘The 39 Steps’ is a brand of slapstick comedy in which it’s obvious the characters know they’re in a play, I decided to design the set as an old British theatre that’s being worked on and preserved,” stated McDonough.
A large set piece with lights graced the front of the performance space accompanied by an above loft filled with benches, which acted as anything from cabs on a train to a stage for a political speech.
“As part of my design, the audience now faces a small balcony that we’ve transformed into the box seats of a theatre,” stated McDonough.
The amount of dedication and work that the cast and crew put into this play was evident in their performance.
I have never genuinely laughed so much at a play performed by college students before.
The next production that ESU’s Theatre Department will be presenting is the “Little Shop of Horrors.”
The performances are set to take place April 19 through April 23.
After the amazing production that I viewed in “The 39 Steps,” I can’t wait to see what the Theatre Department has planned for their next production.
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