‘The 39 Steps’ showcases student talent in comedic mystery play


Image courtesy of Samantha Saunders Studio

Students perform in “The 39 Steps” at the Henry Heymann Theatre last Friday.

By Katelyn Kruszewski, Staff Writer

The thrust stage in Henry Heymann Theatre in the basement of Foster Memorial has seating on the three sides bordering it, offering audiences and performers intimate interactions. The cast of “The 39 Steps” climbs over audience members, asks them questions and runs frantically around the small theater.

Pitt Stages presents “The 39 Steps,” a play comedy that follows the story of thick-accented Richard Hannay, whose mundane life turns upside down when he meets a mysterious woman at the theater. The play is a parody of the 1935 Alfred Hitchcock movie “The 39 Steps.” The show is a student-run production with Theatre Arts professors acting as mentors.

When Hannay takes this mystery woman home, she claims she is a spy with valuable intel. Shortly after their meeting, the woman is found murdered in Hannay’s home. The frightened Hannay, now a man on the run, embarks on a journey to discover the evil plots of the mysterious organization calledThe 39 Steps” and the identity of this woman’s killer. 

The show opened last Friday and performances ran through this weekend and will continue Tuesday to Saturday with performances beginning at 8 p.m. with the exception of a matinee on Sunday.

Rachel Nolen, a senior majoring in theatre arts and political science and the show’s stage manager, has assisted in stage managing with Pitt Stages throughout her time with Pitt. 

Nolen said the cast is on time and production pieces are put together. During the show, Nolen runs the soundboard and lights from her position in the light booth. Nolen said the show has a lot of craziness and excitement.

“[‘The 39 Steps’] is a hilarious take on the traditional old time Hollywood spy stories. It takes you through an unusual day in Richard Hannay’s life where he becomes involved,” Nolen said. “Involved in finding the secrets behind The 39 Steps and saving the country. Literally. It’s a lot of craziness. It’s a lot of excitement.”

Mikki Monfalcone, a senior theater arts and communications major and the production’s director, said the show is a comedic piece.

“It is a farce, very much making fun of old Hollywood and Alfred Hitchcock using Monty Python-style humor,” Monfalcone said.

Consisting of just six cast members, each actor plays multiple roles on Hannay’s journey. These actors use hats and multiple costumes to create the illusion that Hannay is encountering multiple different people on his journey. 

While the original playwright wrote the production with four actors, Monfalcone said she split the roles to give each actor more creative freedom.

“I’ve split those two actors into four actors to kind of ease the amount of weight on each person creatively … It’s sort of a marathon for the actors because a lot of them are playing many many roles,” Monfalcone said. “It’s just a wonder to watch.”

Monfalcone said she applied to be a student director last year, researching plays to possibly work on, when she came upon the “The 39 Steps.” She said the show fit her directing style due to each actor’s intimate interactions.

Monfalcone said the show fit her style, including how she directed the actors.

“I would give minor directing of where I wanted everything to start and where I wanted everything to end. I would let the actors find out how they get from point A to point B and then they would go off of their instincts,” Monfalcone said. “When things worked, I would encourage them to follow their instincts and when things weren’t working we together would decide what wasn’t working and then find a new way to make it work.”

Monfalcone said the show’s comedic bits supply “something for everyone.”

“If you are a fan of comedy in any style, I highly recommend coming to see it,” Monfalcone said. “There’s sort of something for everyone in this show.”

Nolen said the show is special to her because of the people she got to work with including her assistant stage managers and the cast.

“My favorite part is the people I’ve gotten to work with. They’ve all just been so wonderful,” Nolen said. “Everyone I’ve gotten to work with has been so helpful and supportive of one another and I think that’s made the whole process a lot easier to get through.”

Nolen said the production is also a great way to introduce someone to theater.

“It’s a great laugh. It is not a boring show in any sense of the word,” Nolen said. “If you’re new to theater I feel like it’s a great introduction because of how exciting it is, how action-packed it is.”

Christina Vlachos, a senior psychology and theater arts major with a music minor, attended the show in support of her friend who worked on the production. She said the production was funny.

“I thought it was hilarious and so, so well done. There didn’t seem to be a point when I wasn’t laughing,” Vlachos said. “Hilarious character changes, top notch accents, impossible to guess what’ll happen at any moment.”

Vlachos added that she admired how the cast worked so hard on the show.

“I have to say this small cast really put their hearts into this show. Incredible work from the actors as well as tech,” Vlachos said. “The lighting and sound was so thoughtfully done and truly added so much to the whole show.”