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Four actors play 32 characters in fall play “39 Steps”

November 10, 2023

With over two dozen characters and only four actors, the Department of Theater and Dance’s fall play “39 Steps” is a chaotic, funny mystery-thriller that leaves audiences questioning: What are the “39 Steps?”

Initially, the department show was supposed to be “Zombeo and Juliet”; however, the department switched to “39 Steps” over the summer after fewer people than expected accepted their roles. However, the cast of the show was excited about the change.

“I was even more excited when it was ‘39 Steps’ because I was actually in that show when I was in high school, and I played the same role. This is my first time ever revisiting a show,” Henry Jodka ’24, who plays the lead Richard Haney, said.

“39 Steps” is adapted by Patrick Barlow from the 1935 Alfred Hitchcock film and the 1915 novel by John Buchan. The play follows Richard Haney as he gets swept into a winding espionage plot revolving around the mysterious “39 Steps.”

After a woman is murdered in his house, Haney is forced to journey to the Scottish countryside while actively avoiding the police. To save the future of the United Kingdom, Haney has to find out the secret of the “39 Steps” and stop it from getting out of the country.

Jodka is the only actor that plays a single character at a time. Samara Braverman ’24 plays three, and Andy Lopez ’24 and Nathan Bukowski-Thall ’26 each play 14 characters. This means lots of costume changes—even on stage.

“All of us have to be doing something constantly while the play is going on. There is so much ensemble work, working together to actually tell the story,” Bukowski-Thall said. “Having to do 14 different people and also do all the jobs that would usually be done by five or six other actors is really tough.”

To add to the complexity, the set has plenty of moving parts. The staging uses a stripped-down setting where the audience can see into the wings, making costume and prop changes visible to the audience—sometimes contributing to the show’s comedy.

“It’s definitely different from doing a normal play. Because in a normal play, you would be doing anything you can to not let the audience see you if you’re backstage, but in this, it’s almost part of it,” Jodka said. “I think the characters are very aware that they are performing in a play.”

This creative staging includes utilizing the balconies and aisles for chases and fights, making it even more complicated for stage manager Lexi Ashraf ’24. Ashraf is responsible for calling almost every light, sound and video cue in the show.

“It has been a lot. This is a really crazy show, and there are a lot of moving pieces in every way,” Ashraf said.

In tandem with stage-managing this show, Ashraf is doing an independent study about the theory of stage management, culminating in a handbook introducing students to stage management at Bowdoin.

In addition to intricate staging, the play uses video visuals mirroring the style of the original Hitchcock film with credits at the beginning and end, as well as action and backgrounds for most scenes. One particularly entertaining sequence occurs during an elongated chase scene that ends with a plane crash, filling most of the theater with fog.

With lots of moving parts, the cast was excited to see how audience members reacted to the show—they were especially curious if their jokes would land.

“I’m excited to finally get an audience, so I know if our jokes are actually funny or not. I’ve become so desensitized to all the jokes,” Bukowski-Thall said.

Whether or not the jokes were funny, last night’s opening performance was met with roaring applause and laughter.

“This is the best Bowdoin production I’ve ever seen—in four years. Wicked funny. The cast was amazing,” Colleen Doucette ’24 said. “I’m speechless.”


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