39 Things You Should Know About “The 39 Steps”

“What happens when a grown man yells to the universe, ‘I want my life to be more than just this!’? And the universe answers back.” Director Katherine Ray’s intro sets up the ode to Alfred Hitchcock that is The 39 Steps.  What is “The 39 Steps”? We never fully find out out. But here are 39 things you should know about this show.

1. The play is an adaptation of the 1935 Hitchcock film by the same title based on the 1915 book by John Buchan.

2. It’s about a British man who has an unusual encounter with a woman in his theater box that puts him in the middle of a dangerous situation that starts with a murder and sets him off on the run. It’s all a mystery!

3. It’s funny! The witty writing and absurd, slapstick humor capitalizes on the overdramatic and exaggerated expressions of the actors to deliver a lot of laughs even when people aren’t speaking a word.

4. The play weaves in references to many Hitchcock films like “The Birds,” “Rear Window,” “North by Northwest” and “Psycho.” 5 There are only four actors in the whole show and they play multiple characters, proving the depth and talent of the cast as they each take on different accents, voices and personas.

5. Joe Harding knows how to get a laugh. From the tone of his line delivery to his facial expressions, he tackled comedy from multiple angles. Highlights included his Scottish Bates Motel-like owner and his speech as an old man who is very expressive but has no volume when he speaks.

6. Holly Martin stands out no matter what wig or hairstyle she’s wearing, from short and straight to red pigtails and blond, curly hair. Her Russian, British and Scottish accents were impeccable, but I was even more interested in what she was doing when she wasn’t speaking. Just watch her facial expressions from the theater balcony and as she tries to take off her shoes and tights while handcuffed to a man she hates.  There are many instances in the show when her expressions and mannerisms triggered laughter.

7. Harding and Daniel R. Willey have the role of both the clowns and villains. They are the dynamic duo of comedy from the first scene with running the light post out every time the blind is opened to the evil professor and his wife and the inn keeper and his wife.

8. Dick Terhune was the only actor who didn’t play multiple characters, but his British accent is spot on as Richard Hannay and he is really believable as the character. Sometimes I forgot he was playing a part.

9. Watch out for random birds falling from the sky. You’ll be as surprised as the actors.

10. The show breaks the wall between audience and actors, particularly when Terhune roams through the audience and asks them direct questions or pats them on the shoulder.

11. You’ll want to sit in the section of seats on the stairs for extra elevation. I sat toward the back in the first act and on the back floor level for the second act and was constantly peeking around people with an obstructed view during upstage action and any staging involving sitting.

12. The original Hitchcock movie starred Madeleine Carroll and Robert Donat.

13. The play is chock full of art, from a portrait painting to a clever Hitchcock likeness painted on the backboard of the bed that folds out from a set wall. Lana Peck is one of the artists.

14. Films and graphics projected make it a true multi-media protection.

15. Princess Bride has its six-fingered man as the villain and The 39 Steps has an evil man missing a pinky finger tip.

16. Catch the music from various Hitchcock films interspersed throughout.

17. The name of the villain’s layer ends with a gargling sounds and on at least one occasion an accidental spit on the face.

18. There’s a train sequence with trunks as seats that depends on the actors jostling up and down to portray a train moving.

19. Joe Harding and Daniel R. Willey wear many hats, literally and figuratively, impressively maneuvering between characters on stage while alternating their hats and costumes.

20. Holly Martin and Dick Terhune have the most dramatic, drawn out non-kisses that made the audience chuckle.

21. Mr. Memory (Willey) can tell you anything. Is that right, sir?

22. Even the crew gets into character with Hitchcock-like attire. In the beginning, one of the stagehands started to walk off and then frantically clammers back to remove the blanket from Terhune seated in a chair. That got a laugh.

23. Sound effects played a bit part, from a ringing phone to the sound of someone falling.

24. The play pokes fun at the standard art of a play, like when Willey and Harding race to be positioned by the light pole while doing surveillance on the main character’s house every time a Terhune’s Hannay opens the blinds and a sound effect comes on.

25. Doors were a big part of the set changing the perspective from outside to inside scenes.

26. The play’s modernized with the “you shall not pass” line from Lord of the Rings to a light saber sound effect during a fight sequence.

27. Listen for the Chariots of Fire music.

28. The theater balconies are another beautiful part of the set.

29. No characters can be trusted and aren’t always what they seem. Some could be spies!

30. Terhune was able to make people laugh in acting out a very frantic moment of unfolding of a map.

31. The use of a picture frame as the “rear window” the actors look through and escape out of was an effective prop use where set pieces weren’t possible.

32. Drag never loses it’s humor on the stage. Willey plays two wives of two of Harding’s characters.

33. The play is cyclical, with beginnings and endings set in the theater.

34. The actors are able to play each of their characters distinctively and the director gave them a lot of creative license.

35. Ray likens some of the humor to Monty Python.

36. She points out her favorite quote in the show in her program note. Hannay said, “Let’s all set ourselves resolutely to make this world a happier place! A decent wold! A good world! A world where no nation plots against the nation! Where no neighbor plots against a neighbor, where there’s no persecution or hunting down, where everybody gets a square deal and a sporting chance and where people try to help and not to hinder. A world where suspicion and cruelty and fear have been forever banished. That’s the sort of world I want!”

37. Taryn Glasser is the stage manager and Michael Newman was the assistant stage manager. Sharon Wilcox is the executive producer and designed the set with Jameson Willey. Keith Hales was the master carpenter.

38. There are two more shows and it’s a must-see. One Saturday, Jan. 24 at 8 p.m. and the other on Sunday, Jan. 25 at 2 p.m. Call the Box Office for tickets or order them off the Warner’s website.

39. The show is in the Nancy Marine Studio Theater at the Warner Theatre in Torrington.

“Aches and Pains” Hits the Funny Bone at Seven Angels Theatre

“Welcome to our celebration of the graying of America.”

That intro line sums up the comical, lively Aches And Pains in a nutshell.

Set in a nursing home, the play presents vignettes of the daily lives of the patients and caretakers woven into a broader story about coping with aging and the triumphs and tribulations of life.

Seven Angels Theatre in Waterbury debuted the musical 18 years ago in 1997 — with book and lyrics by the late Dan Calabrese and music by Richard DeRosa. Now it returns for the stage company’s 25th anniversary with many of the original actors reprising their roles (closer to the age of their characters, apparently) and Waterbury native DeRosa on piano.

Seeing an original musical created by people with Connecticut ties is really special. That is also a risky choice for a theater company because the public is less likely to have heard of it. But nonetheless, the theater was almost full at the second performance on Saturday night.

If you’re looking for a musical with a good storyline, this play left much to be desired with abrupt ends to Act I and the show without much closure or a steady plot. Like Love Actually, we follow several characters’ narratives as opposed to a primary protagonist, but the difference is that the sub-stories don’t necessarily intertwine and some are fleeting without any resolution or development.

That being said, the line writing was fantastic with uproarious humor. The character building was phenomenal. The songs, while introspective to help shape the characters, are deep and clever. Favorite songs included “Bubble and Bingo,” “Middle Class Blues,” “A Different Kind of Love,” Gaudiosi Hym of Joy” and “Mama.”

It’s not a play of action, but a play of words. The actors break the invisible wall between the audience and the stage and address us directly to tell their stories in a very expositional way. But rather than simply telling us who they are, they tell stories that characterize themselves. Maybe this structure is true to how it actually is at a nursing home, as everyone co-exists with separate and unrelated lives, constantly cycling through memories manifested in arbitrary stories and musings.

Even without a cohesive plot, you will be entertained.

And a large part of that is the wonderfully talented cast. Monologues are highly utilized to advance the story and develop the setting and character histories, so that required each actor to hold his or her own in bringing the characters to life. Especially since dance is not a large element of this show, more so relying on blocked movements, the actors really have to bring emotion and character acting into their songs.

Exceptional performers included Meric Martin as Bruno, Joyce Jeffrey as his mother, Angela Del Vecchio, Priscilla Squiers as washed up child star Mavis Marchand, director Tom Chute reprising his role as 100-year-old Elmo Cahill and James Donahue, who doubles as Dr. Tivolini and female busybody Phyll Gaudiosi.

Martin’s soothing, operatic tenor voice stands out, as well as his strong ability to emote, put on an accent and connect with Jeffrey in the song, “Mama.” Meanwhile, Jeffrey, although she’s far younger than her 82-year-old character, does emulate physical and emotional aches and pains well and she put her stamp on each song she sang, particularly the sultry, spunky “That’s Just the Way I Am.” I couldn’t understand her Italian insults, but she got the point across visually so you could understand her intentions. The storyline of a mother angry at her son for putting her in a nursing home is the one with the largest arc as they mend an embattled relationship.

Chute, though not anywhere close to 100, gives us the epitome of the aged as he spurts out random stories and lines like “women get sick, men die” to show the elusive mind at a ripe old age. Squiers does diva well, character voice and all. Donahue was at his strongest playing a woman named Phyll, having fun with flaunting the feminine mannerisms in drag as a comedic device.

All of the voices were honestly lovely though, and you could hear them each loud and clear, thanks to the sound design of Matt Martin (Meric Martin’s twin). Sitting three rows back, the volume sometimes seemed too big for the intimate space of the room, but at the same time it was impressive that the cast of 13 could provide such a full sound in large part because of the amplification. There was only one mic issue with rustling and feedback.

All in all, who knew aches and pains could bring about such energy and joy? This production cuts through the negative components of aging with energy and good-spirited fun.

Aches and Pains runs until Jan. 25 at Seven Angels Theatre on Plank Road in Waterbury. Tickets are $30 and $25 for subscribers and $25 for anyone under 21. Parking in the lot across the street is free. For more information or to buy tickets, you can call the box office at 203-757-4676 or visit SevenAngelsTheatre.org.

Full Cast

  • Tom Chute: Elmo
  • Joanne Chenkus: Emyline
  • Joyce Jeffrey: Angela
  • Michael Santoro: Ziggy
  • Priscilla Squiers: Mavis
  • Rebecca Pokorski: Maxine
  • MIchaelangelo Mancini: Gary
  • Leah Ciccone: Miranda
  • Peter Bard: Cliff
  • Stephanie Varanelli Miles: Nori
  • Michelle Gotay: Josie
  • James Donahue: Dr. Tivolini/Phyll Gaudiosi
  • Meric Martin: Bruno

Musicians

  • Richard DeRosa: Piano
  • Jane Bate: Synthesizer
  • Mark Ryan: Drums

Production Staff

  • Semina De Laurentis: Artistic director
  • Tom Chute: Director
  • Jane Bate: Music director
  • Choreographer: Ralph Cantito
  • Keri Dumka: Production manager
  • Rachel Wolf: Stage manager
  • Technical Director: Daniel Husvar