‘The 39 Steps’ makes its SIUE debut this week

Monty Python meets Alfred Hitchcock.

That’s how theater and dance professor Peter Cocuzza described the department’s latest production, “The 39 Steps,” which runs Nov. 13 – 17. Cocuzza said the production is a murder-mystery spoof that has previous adaptations in book (John Buchan’s 1915 publication) and film (Hitchcock’s movie of the same name).

“It’s still about spies and intrigue and people are trying to figure out the clues,” Cocuzza said.

Cocuzza said fans of Hitchcock will recognize references to Hitchcock’s work, while others will see a “spy, murder mystery with a bunch of silliness thrown in on top of it.”

“It’s bigger than just a murder mystery. It’s bigger than just sketch comedy, [and if you] put the two together [and] add all the interesting effects, it’s something that’s larger than any one of the three separately,” Cocuzza said.

At one point during the play, there will be an on-stage plane crash, which Cocuzza said will be displayed “in a very campy way” with projections, smoke effects and “suspensions of belief from the audience.”

Cocuzza said a combination of lights, sounds, minimal props and good acting will “take the audience on an interesting journey they’ve never been on before on a show like this.”

Other aspects of the show require a suspension of belief because there is a lot they do not try to hide, according to Ryan Wiechmann, a senior mass communications and theater performance major.

“There’s clearly a window floating in the middle of nowhere,” said Weichmann, who plays Richard Hanney, “and sometimes we’re walking off with the window… A lot of it is you understand those three actors are playing so many different parts… A lot of it is just kind of absorbing yourself into that moment.”

Weichmann is the only actor who stays the same character throughout the production. Wiechmann’s character Hanney begins the show bored with his life.

“He finds no humor in [his life] anymore. A lot of his friends are either missing or married off or eaten by crocodiles, so he opens up the show with him talking about how bored he is with his life,” Weichmann said. “Then he goes to the theater and is just like, ‘I need something to entertain me to find some value in this life,’ and sure enough that’s where the play picks up.”

Weichmann said Hanney was involved in a conspiracy and spends the duration of the play searching for the truth about a conspiracy against England.

“But really throughout the show he’s kind of finding the truth about himself, his relationship with himself and other people and the world,” Weichmann said.

Josh Funneman and Nick Perich both play 15 characters each, while Jozette Spaid, a mass communications and theater performance major, plays three female characters.

Spaid plays the three leading women: Anabella (a German spy), Margarate (a Scottish farm wife) and Pamela (British). All three women are Hannay’s love interests. Spaid said the most difficult aspect of playing three roles is “becoming three distinct characters” on stage.

“[You] just have to get into that mindset of being a different person,” Spaid said, “and the dialects, it helps, but at the same time… it was a challenge.”

While students can be turned off by theater because they think it is conventional and boring, Weichmann said “The 39 Steps,” while “somewhat traditional,” is “also very unique.”

“It’s a move adapted to the stage. It’s very humorous. It’s a lot of witty comedy and slapstick comedy and it’s kind of neat to see,” Weichmann said. “When I saw it on stage it reminded me why I like theater because, yes, this was done in a movie version, which was a little bit more serious, but something like this cannot be filmed. You can film it, but it’s not going to have the same effect as sitting there watching it all come together piece by piece…”

For more information about the play or to purchase tickets, call 618-650-2774.

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