Spy story, adventure combine in comedy ‘39 Steps’

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 28, 2013

Salisbury resident Edward Whitney hasn’t tried his hand at playing multiple characters since doing so for an exercise in his high school drama class.
But that changed when he landed a role in the upcoming Piedmont Players Theatre production of “39 Steps.”
Whitney and Benjamin Thomas, a Statesville resident, each play more than a dozen characters in the Tony-winning show based on the 1915 novel by John Buchan and the 1935 film by Alfred Hitchcock.
“You really have to focus to keep every character different, but that makes it all the more interesting,” Whitney said.
Thomas, whose roles include the villains of the production, said he got some practice playing a number of characters during his stint in Hickory Community Theatre’s “Around the World in 80 Days,” earlier this year.
“It can be exhausting switching back and forth,” he said.
Salisbury resident Alisha Schreffler doesn’t have to juggle dozens of characters, but she does play three, a task she says has been both challenging and rewarding.
“One of my characters is subdued, while another is a spitfire,” she said. “It’s definitely been interesting keeping track of their different personalities.”
The one constant throughout the play is Richard Hannay, played by Austin Young.
“He’s Hitchcock’s unexpected every man who is thrown into this world of spies and jet setting,” Young said. “It’s easy to forget he’s just some ordinary guy.”
The spy story, which opens next Thursday, is an incredibly fast-paced adventure, according to Director Reid Leonard.
“It’s a murder mystery that rips Hannay out of his dull life into an escapade across Great Britain,” Whitney said.
Leonard said the set for “39 Steps” is minimal, but incredibly complicated.
“It looks like most of the time a bare stage, but there are also many things rigged to be able to tell the story,” he said.
The script includes allusions to and puns on the titles of other Hitchcock films including “Rear Window,” “Psycho,” “Vertigo” and “North by Northwest.”