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Playhouse tip toes to '39 Steps'
Done with a twist is a fitting way to describe Port Angeles Community Players' version of “The 39 Steps.”
The comedic play by Patrick Barlow, inspired by the Alfred Hitchcock film and John Buchan novel, takes the spy, action/adventure and love story elements and filters them through four principal actors.
“Picture an Alfred Hitchcock film directed by Monty Python,” joked director Pat Owens.
“The 39 Steps” opens on Sept. 14 for the Port Angeles Community Players' 60th season, featuring Sean Peck-Collier as protagonist Richard Hannay, who is accidentally accused of murdering a female spy and from there encounters a string of more than 100 characters played by Anna Unger, Ron Graham and John Manno. Hannay investigates the 39 Steps spy ring and ends up being chased across England and Scotland by the police and spies.
Owens said the action is amplified with Hannay being chased on a train, by an airplane a la “North by Northwest,” and chased on the streets of Edinburgh where Hannay disguises himself in a marching band.
“It's as much an homage to Hitchcock as to the theater,” he said. “We're able to do some of things they do on the stage and (in) the films but a lot of it is left to the imagination of the audience.”
The community players' adaptation is based more on the film than the novel and Owens said as a director he focuses on characterization more than anything else.
“Even characters with one line are well-defined,” he said. “The villain is a real villain. Obviously, in the Port Angeles Community Playhouse, we can't do some of the things that the bigger playhouses can, but I think we do it pretty well.”
The production has worked for hours on its timing, especially with Graham and Manno portraying a bulk of the 100-plus characters.
With so many accents and personalities in the play, Owens said actors must change their clothes in the blink of an eye.
“There's a lot of layering,” he said. “You'll see a cleaning lady and then a milkman. That's the magic of theater.”
Owens said not only is the costuming all about timing, but “comedy is pretty much all about timing.”
He's also proud that their version includes not only fun, but suspense and a love story.
“It shows how Richard (Hannay) manages to find love in his life,” Owens said.
“That is one aspect a lot of productions overlook.”
Sixty years of theatrics
For 60 years, the Port Angeles Community Players have helped grow theater and local entertainment in the area with more than 350 performances from a volunteer effort.
The group continues with four more productions this season: “The 39 Steps,” the current production; “A Christmas Story” by Jean Shepherd, Nov. 23-Dec. 9; “The Mousetrap” by Agatha Christie Feb. 22-March 10; and “The Foreigner” by Larry Shue, May 3-19. Additional second stage shows are interspliced on Halloween and in December.
“A busy playhouse is a happy playhouse,” said Kathy Balducci, past president of the board.
She's been involved for 43 years with the players after moving from Michigan and has worked in 50-plus plays. She met her husband through the group and her children grew up on and around the stage.
Balducci said the group started doing shows at the YMCA and decided to create its own facility with donated land from Esther Barrows Webster. The group saved money and performed for about 20 years before building its theater at 1235 Lauridsen Blvd., where shows continue to this day.
Barbara Frederick, an actress and director in some capacity for 24 years, said the group's efforts are what can happen when a group of people come together with a common goal.
“When it's done in a way to stay true to community theater and the community to continually keep doing quality shows, that's the legacy of the people who came before all of us and built what we have now,” Frederick said.
The group has seen some changes over its history.
“When we started, the symphony was the only regular entertainment along with the movie theater,” Balducci said.
When more entertainment came into town, the group cut back its show count due to the competition.
“But we can devote more time to each play and be more polished to put out the best product we can,” Balducci said.
About 50 members rotate their services to keep the playhouse and productions running.
Balducci said a lot of the core volunteers are baby boomers, but she's delighted to see younger members getting involved.
Frederick said for her, becoming involved was as simple as showing up at an audition.
“To me, it's a great release,” she said. “I can walk in the door and all the stress of the day is left outside. I can be creative, laugh and be goofy and get all the creativeness going and that makes me better in my everyday life.”