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"Roald Dahl's Willy Wonka Jr.," March 7-23, Village Square Theatre, 359-1346.
"Marvin's Room," March 7-16, Chapin Theatre Company, 240-8544.
"Stand By Your Man: The Tammy Wynette Story," March 7-22, Town Theatre, 799-2510.
"Review Revue 2: Around the World With CCT," March 7, Columbia Children's Theatre, 691-4548.
"Biloxi Blues," March 14-29, Workshop Theatre, 799-6551.
"See Rock City and Other Destinations," March 14 - April 5, Trustus Theatre, 254-9732.
"Jackie and Me," March 27 - April 5, USC Longstreet Theatre.
"The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe," March 27 - April 6, Sumter Little Theatre, 775-2150.
"Alice in Wonderland," March 28-30, Ritz Theatre of Newberry, 276-6264.
"The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fair(l)y (Stupid) Tales," March 28 - April 8, Columbia Children's Theatre, 691-4548.
"Race," April 11-26, Trustus Side Door Theatre, 254-9732.
"Hamlet," April 18-26, USC Drayton Hall.
"The Taming of the Shrew," April 24-27, USC Lab Theatre.
Press Releases for Current Shows
Camden Community Theatre
Center Stage Youth Theatre
Chapin Theatre Company
Columbia Children's Theatre
On Stage Productions
Ritz Theatre of Newberry
SC Shakespeare Company
Stage 5 Theatre
Sumter Little Theatre
Village Square Theatre
“The 39 Steps” Showcases Depth of Talent Behind the Scenes in USC’s Theatre Program
Review by August Krickel.
Technical wizardry, split-second timing, and the boundless energy of four MFA students converge in USC's Longstreet Theatre, as Patrick Barlow's Hitchcock spoof The 39 Steps takes audiences on a dizzying comic adventure. While there's an awful lot of silly schtick, it serves the greater purpose of providing joyously goofy entertainment, while showcasing the depth of talent behind the scenes in USC's theatre program.
In 1935, Hitchcock was still becoming Hitchcock, working with already dated material from John Buchan's 1915 novel. His film incorporated many themes that he explored more fully later in his career: an everyman hero plunged into increasingly dangerous settings, an icy blonde love interest, menacing authority figures, red herrings, plot twists, and a broader plot involving international intrigue that is really secondary to the characterizations and the thrills. North by Northwest was perhaps the culmination of those motifs. Probably seen as a romantic thriller in its day, his film of The 39 Steps can strike modern audiences as melodramatic, and this is what Barlow's play takes advantage of. Using the original film's actual dialogue, four actors recreate every twist and turn live on a bare stage, using every tool of the actor's trade - mock seriousness, pantomime, faint suggestions of physical locations, exaggerated reactions and double takes, quickly-changed costumes and wigs, and comic interaction with sound and lighting cues. Josiah Laubenstein keeps to one character, the urbane, jaded, square-jawed hero, Richard Hannay, while Melissa Reed portrays three women he meets along the way: a vampy German spy, a smolderingly repressed Scottish farmgirl, and a plucky heroine. James Costello and Trey Hobbs play everyone and in some cases every *thing* else (e.g. a river, a furrow in a field, a thorny bush.) It's like commedia dell' arte on acid, with the 4th wall to the audience rarely broken, but the other three walls completely shattered, as the actors acknowledge to each other that they are recreating and depicting a complex and challenging tale on the fly.
for example, fights a constant and losing battle with sound effects, which work
for everyone but him. Costello and
That said, there's a fair amount of stylized nonsense that doesn't serve the actors well. Two guest directors are credited, Jim Helsinger and Brad DePlance, described in program notes as having worked on three previous productions of the material. Whichever one is responsible for the rapid pace and the blocking of the cast that enables them to keep up with that pace is to be commended. My guess is that many of the odd choices in tone may have worked in previous versions, and so they have tossed in the entire kitchen sink for maximum effect. The jokes that don't work never detract from overall enjoyment of the play, but the material cries for the subtlety and nuance of Frank Thompson and Bill DeWitt as the Clowns in Town Theatre's excellent production of The 39 Steps just two years ago. Which is probably the only time that those two veteran and beloved comedians' names have ever been used in the context of subtlety on stage.
The nature of university theatre is not simply to entertain but also to provide training opportunities for future professionals, and there are nearly 50 people listed in the crew who make everything work for the only four people we ever see. One doesn't normally think of Longstreet as a particularly large space, but Xuemei Cao's set design takes over some 25% of the seating, replacing it with a faux proscenium for several scenes that require the appearance of a traditional stage, complete with box seating and a vast set of rear doors. Most of the action plays out in what would normally be considered a thrust, surrounded by the audience on three sides, except of course the seats in Longstreet rise steeply above this area. The resulting effect creates the illusion of a huge space, which helps with rapid shifts of location. The directors cleverly block their actors to play to all sides of the audience; if a character holds a newspaper with a relevant photo displayed, there is always some excuse for the actor to turn all the way around, so that no one misses a thing. Cao has also covered the floor with the representation of deep-hued, richly-burnished wood, which is quite elegant. Ashley Pittman and Britt Sandusky are credited for excellent lighting and sound design respectively, but kudos absolutely must also go to Light Board operator Jack Wood and Sound Board operator Taylor Canoy, whose perfect timing enable a significant amount of the comedy. Even Todd Stuart's props are intricately designed - I spotted a seemingly real glass of milk and large sandwich which were actually completely solid, so as to avoid any chance of a spill. The faint of heart, however, should be aware that there are a number of very loud gunshots.
There is inspired use of music from Hitchcock films (including the less intimidating parts from the score to Psycho.) Characters periodically drop the names of the director's other movies at opportune moments, as when Laubenstein dramatically declares "You've got... (long pause) .... The Wrong Man!" There is even a spot-on, voice-over imitation of Hitchcock's unique vocal style, introducing the play as he might have done for an episode of his classic TV series. All in all, The 39 Steps is a hilarious celebration of what gifted performers and stage technicians can do when given free rein to indulge themselves. It's not Hitchcock by any stretch, but it’s undeniably fun.
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