Theatre students Lanie Pritchett, Gilmer junior, in the role of Pamela, and Ivan McCormick, Lago Vista freshman, as Richard Hannay, rehearse a scene from “The 39 Steps.”

Theatre students Lanie Pritchett, Gilmer junior, in the role of Pamela, and Ivan McCormick, Lago Vista freshman, as Richard Hannay, rehearse a scene from “The 39 Steps,” which runs Feb. 29 through March 3 in the Flex Theatre, Griffith Fine Arts Building, on the SFA campus. A presentation of the School of Theatre and Dance, “The 39 Steps” is adapted by Patrick Barlow from the novel by John Buchan and the film by Alfred Hitchcock. The play is directed by Professor Scott Shattuck with costumes by James McDaniel.

NACOGDOCHES, Texas – If you’re looking for fast-paced suspense, wild humor and some ludicrously creative stagecraft, the Stephen F. Austin State University School of Theatre and Dance’s performance of “The 39 Steps” is the ticket for an entertaining experience.

“The 39 Steps,” a play adapted by Patrick Barlow from the novel by John Buchan and the film by Alfred Hitchcock, will be presented Thursday through Sunday, Feb. 29 through March 3, in the Flex Theatre, Griffith Fine Arts Building, on the SFA campus. Directed by Professor Scott Shattuck, the play features a small group of student actors playing dozens of roles to parody the 1935 movie classic.

The play has been described as a “gleefully theatrical riff” on the Hitchcock thriller, so the student actors are actually portraying the members of a 1930s troupe of players who are scrambling to recreate an action-packed movie on a modest stage. Those actors are trying “anything and everything they can come up with,” according to Shattuck, from clambering over each other to play different parts by changing hats to re-using props again and again to create unique locales in more than 30 different scenes. Shattuck described his students as playing enthusiastic amateur thespians who are “in a state of cheerful panic throughout.”

“They’re swinging wildly from one overstated accent to another,” he explained, “changing bits of costumes and wigs whenever possible, reacting to countless sound and lighting effects which are sometimes late or early, miming anything that doesn’t actually show up on stage and hoping against hope for the audience’s indulgence.”

In “The 39 Steps,” a Londoner with a boring life meets an enigmatic woman who says she’s a spy. He agrees to let her hide in his flat, but shadowy heavies put a knife in her back. Soon, both the police and a secretive, nefarious organization are hot on the man’s trail in a manhunt that climaxes in a death-defying finale, according to information from Concord Theatricals. This Tony Award-winning treat is packed with nonstop laughs, zany characters, fast-paced chases, schemes, surprises, suspense and romance.

According to Turner Ring, student sound designer from Dallas, hundreds of sound cues, including music and both realistic and gimmicky effects, are so integral to the action that he has been attending rehearsals almost as if the sounds are yet another character in the show.

“In other shows I have done, there are anywhere from 30 to 50 sound cues that occur,” Ring said. “A cue is any sound played on stage, for instance a telephone ringing or a train horn. However, for ‘The 39 Steps,’ there are going to be more than 200 sound cues, which is far and away the most I have ever done.”

Ring started going to rehearsals as soon as the show was fully blocked, which he explained is very early in the process. “Usually, designers don't attend rehearsal until weeks later,” he said, “but this has been beneficial for me to not only see how my sound interacts with the actors and show itself, but also so I can fix small issues that come up before they become bigger issues.”

Theatre majors Joshua Harris, Kai Crumley and Anthony Krosecz are among the performers, designated as “clowns” in the script, who portray multiple characters. “I've been trying to find a unique physicality for each of my characters,” Harris said. “Since the play relies on over-the-top comedy, this helps me create a solid base for my characters.”

Crumley, a junior from Kingwood, has been creating a distinct voice for each of the different roles she plays. “Each character I play has a different accent – Cockney, Scottish, Irish – that I try to make as distinguishable as possible,” she said. “Finding the register where each accent sits in my voice helps me differentiate age, gender and location for each character. Since the play is set in several different countries, making each accent as clear as possible really helps the audience understand in what location each scene is set.”

Giving a unique mental image to each of his characters has helped Krosecz make them more distinct from one another. “Whenever I think of ‘the milkman’ I go with the most obvious and just think of milk, and try to incorporate that into the character,” the Sugar Land junior said. “This ended up giving him an overbite. Milk made me think of bones, and I thought it’d be funny to show off his pearly whites.”

The students said they appreciate that “The 39 Steps” offers each actor a great deal of opportunity for versatility. “I really appreciate how the script provides us with the challenge and excitement of playing characters of all different nationalities, ages and genders,” Crumley said. This is just one part of what makes it so charming and fun for audiences and cast members alike.”

“I also greatly appreciate the laughs that my castmates and the script continue to give me,” Krosecz added.

The target audience of “The 39 Steps” includes tweens through seniors, but even some younger children (8+) may enjoy it. Drinking, smoking, violence and sexual innuendo are depicted, but all in ways that are cartoonish or benign. Profane language is minimal and mild. There are loud “bang” sounds, flashing lights, stage fog and lighthearted suspense.

“The 39 Steps” will be presented at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, Feb. 29 through March 2, and at 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, March 2 and 3, in the Flex Theatre. General admission ticket prices are: adult, $15; senior (62+), $10; youth (high school and younger), $8; SFA faculty/staff, $8; non-SFA student, $8; and SFA student, $5. For ticketing information or to purchase tickets, visit the Fine Arts Box Office website or call (936) 468-6407. For information about the play, call (936) 468-4003 or visit the School of Theatre and Dance website.