BWW Previews: Mind's Eye Mines Thriller For Laughs
Think "Alfred Hitchcock."
Did you think "allusive puns, rapid-fire costume changes and broad comedy"?
Probably not. Catch Patrick Barlow's adaptation of the master of horror and suspense's 1935 motion picture thriller "The 39 Steps," and you just might.
Mind's Eye Theatre Company presents the farcical four-character adaptation in the Martin Experimental Theatre at the Kentucky Center for the Arts beginning Friday, April 18.
The original "The 39 Steps" is a template for many of Hitchcock's later "wrong man" masterpieces, such as "North by Northwest" and "The Man Who Knew Too Much" (itself remade from the auteur's 1934 film of the same name.)
"The 39 Steps" tells the high-intensity, melodramatic tale of a man who witnesses a shooting and becomes caught up in a game of spying, intrigue and murder.
The play ups the stakes - and the comedy - by adapting the action and 100+ characters for only four performers. One performer (for Mind's Eye, Pete Lay) plays the lead role of the wrongfully-pursued Richard Hannay - and only Richard Hannay. Another actor - occasionally an actress, and in Mind's Eye's production, Carrie Cooke Ketterman - plays the three women Hannay meets over the course of his journey. Two other actors play "The Clowns," filling every other role in the show via a variety of breakneck wardrobe changes. Mind's Eye co-founder Jeff Ketterman and Brian Morris play The Clowns under the direction of Mind's Eye's other co-creator, Janet Morris.
"They change costumes like whirling dervishes," Morris says. "They play old men, cops, women, newspaper guys. Jeff alone plays three women. I don't want to spoil any gags, but it has to be seen to be believed."
Ketterman and Morris chose "The 39 Steps" after seeing productions in Cincinnati and locally through the PNC Broadway Across America touring series. One element that enhanced the appeal was a distinctive element among plays: a complete absence of stage directions in the script.
"The play kind of follows the movie, but there are no gags in the script," Morris says. "That was a big attraction: you decide what you want to do to make it funny. Seeing what others had done in Cincinnati and with the Broadway series, we added our own thing to it."
Add-ins in will include humorous homages to Hitchcock's other classic works, such as "The Birds" and "Rear Window." The script itself makes reference to "Strangers on a Train," "Psycho," "Vertigo" and more.
The challenge of creating a film onstage led Morris to put most of the work on the sound design side.
"We're doing more with the music on stage, using it as if it were a movie," she says. "We have 110 sound cues in this show. I had to figure out, 'How do you use sound to show you're on the side of a train? On a bridge? On an airplane?' It's a crazy spy adventure story."
Loading up on the sound side meant cleverly employing set pieces and props to keep the action brisk. The actors will employ boxes to create pieces such as a train, bed, a hotel reception desk and a car.
"That's why we wanted to do this play. You can do so much just using your imagination," Morris says. "'How can we do this? How can we make it look like someone is falling off a bridge?'"
"The 39 Steps" marks the second production for Mind's Eye, which made its debut a few months ago with the sold-out "Monty Python's Spamalot." Morris says the company pretty much has next season planned, beginning in September with "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee," the Tony Award-winning musical by Rachel Sheinkin and William Finn. Beyond that remains under wraps for now.
Mind's Eye is not attempting to occupy any sharply-defined niche in the local theater scene, according to Morris. Plays are selected for a simple criterion.
"It's what we like," she says. "We like comedies. It's kind of our thing. Also musicals. We do the shows we want to do because they look fun. Luckily, we have a lot of the same tastes.
"If we like it, we'll do it."
Mind's Eye Theatre Company presents Alfred Hitchcock's "The 39 Steps" at the Kentucky Center for the Arts April 18-27. Tickets are $16 general admission and $12 on Industry Night, Sunday, April 20. For tickets, 502.584.7777 (toll-free 800.775.7777) or go to www.kentuckycenter.org.