39 Steps

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(L to R): Aubrey Russell, Danica Olsen-Walter, John Pickett, Rycheigh Allen
(L to R): Aubrey Russell, Danica Olsen-Walter, John Pickett, Rycheigh Allen

Article Contributed by
Walt Pickut

At times, the riveting suspense holds the audience breathless. At least as often, this remarkable adaptation of a classic 1935 Alfred Hitchcock movie leaves audiences breathless with laughter. The movie from which the play was created is ranked the fourth best British film of the 20th century by the British Film Institute.

Equally remarkable, the Lucille Ball Little Theatre has never before staged a show with 150 characters. Even stranger, all 150 are played by a zany cast of only four. Add an on-stage plane crash, handcuffs, missing fingers and some good old-fashioned romance, and 39 Steps becomes a once-in-a-lifetime experience, all staged in early 20th century England and Scotland.

This play is a thriller full of humor, drama, and adrenaline. It’s been called, “a juicy spy novel with a dash of Monty Python.” The stage is almost bare in this unique adaptation, except for a few props and the audience’s vivid imagination. In 39 Steps the audience is intimately involved in creating the action, the excitement, the romance, and especially the thrill of the chase.

On Stage
Performances are slated for March 9, 10, 11, 16, 17, 18, 2018, Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2:00 p.m.

(L to R): Rycheigh Allen & Aubrey Russell

The Right Director
The director of this Lucille Ball Little Theatre presentation of 39 Steps, Richard Olson-Walter, told the Gazette, “I’ve been doing theater since I was in high school back in England and doing community theater for 15 years. I did 30 or 40 shows over there and directed a few as well. In 2013 I came to the states to get married and have now done quite a bit of work here.”

“This will be my first directing work in the US” he said. “It’s exciting for me and sort of interesting that I am doing my first show here, yet it is based in the UK, back in England and Scotland.”

Accents that change as quickly as hats and costumes in this play add a special charm to the performances. No one is quite sure who first said it – being variously attributed to Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw and even Winston Churchill – but few plays will reveal as cleverly to American audiences that “England and America are two countries separated by the same language.” Idioms and accents from a half dozen interesting places will delight the audience by adding their own magic music to the performances.

An Exciting Challenge
“The challenge of this show,” according to Olson-Walter, is that “…this old Hitchcock movie is the original ‘chase movie’. It was the first one where a man gets caught in a peculiar situation, a mystery, whilst being pursued by both criminals and the police and tangles with an array of 150 characters.”

One actor (John Pickett, a regular on the Little Theater Stage) plays Richard Hannay, the leading man, one woman (Danica Olson-Walter) plays three leading ladies; a soon-to-be-murdered German spy, Annabella Smith, and thereafter, English and Scottish women. The rest of the 150 characters are left to the other two actors in truly virtuoso performances, changing hats, coats, dresses, wigs, accents and personalities, sometimes even on stage for the audience to enjoy.

“It’s all a bit like watching a magic trick,” Olson-Walter said, clearly pleased with the work of those two remaining players.

“Rycheigh Allan is a very talented actor and a poet,” Olson-Walter added. “He is really relishing the challenge of this play. Aubrey Russell, a member of the board of directors at Little Theater, is doing a great job as well. They are all enjoying themselves and having a good time, and you can see that on stage.”

Ultimately, the mysterious international spy syndicate giving the play its name “The 39 Steps” chases Hannay in a nationwide manhunt that climaxes in a death-defining finale!

Hitchcock fans will enjoy the music throughout which has been largely selected from Hitchcock’s films.

Learn More
To learn more about the Lucille Ball Little Theater, readers are invited to log on to http://www.lucilleballlittletheatre.org/. Tickets for 39 Steps are available at the box office, 18 E. Second Street, Jamestown, or online.

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Walt Pickut
Walt Pickut’s writing career began with publishing medical research in1971 while working at the Jersey City Medical Center and the NYU Hospital and School of Medicine. Walt holds board registries in respiratory care and sleep technology as well as bachelor's degrees in biology and communication, and a master's degrees in physiology from Fairleigh-Dickinson University in New Jersey, with additional graduate work in mass communication completed at SUNY Amherst. He currently teaches Presentational Speaking in the Houghton College PACE program at JCC and holds memberships in the Society of Professional Journalists and the American Society of Business Publication Editors. He lives in Jamestown with his wife Nancy, an MSW social worker, and has three children: Dr. Cait Lamberton in Pittsburgh, Bill Pickut, a marketing executive in Chicago, and Rev. Matt Pickut in Plymouth, IN.