STEP ON up to Asbury Memorial Theatre for an evening of espionage, intrigue, and side-splitting comedy: The theatre’s fall production, The 39 Steps, is going to be a wild ride of a farce blending film noir influences with absurdist, Pythonesque humor and James Bond-style slickness.
Armstrong grad Travis Hornsby takes the director’s chair for The 39 Steps. Last summer, while out of state working on a gig, Hornsby read Patrick Barlow’s 2005 adaptation at the suggestion of a friend.
“I read it and fell in love with it instantly,” he recalls. “I stage managed a production of Barnum with Asbury, and I knew they were considering some offers for their fall show. I said, ‘What if we did that here?’ They loved the idea I pitched, and here we are doing it!”
Hornsby was not familiar with Hitchcock’s 1935 film, which the play is based on, when he first read the script.
“I had to go back and watch the film,” he says. “It was striking how similar the play is to the film, but also different. The aesthetic we were going for I could see in the play, so obviously the film is much more of a thriller action-drama, and the show is a thriller-action-comedy.”
The 39 Steps winks and nods to Hitchcock’s career and catalog while telling the story of Richard Hannay, a man who finds himself caught up in a world of double agents, secret societies, and spies. To survive, the unassuming Hannay must obtain valuable information and get it in the right hands.
Perhaps the most impressive shift from silver screen to stage is the fact that over 150 characters are interpreted by a very, very small cast.
“In this show, the minimum is to have four actors,” Hornsby explains. “With ours, we branched out and did five...it’s proven very beneficial; there’s still a lot of costume changes, multiple characters, but it’s reduced slightly so we can focus our attentions a bit more directly.”
Asbury, as both a church and theatre, is a tight-knit and welcoming community; it’s reflected in a cast of Asbury regulars and newcomers.
“Rehearsals have been fun,” Hornsby reports. “My style is to get it blocked so we can put it up and then keep running it, because I find that when you’re running it, you sort of pick up on nuance. You pick up on themes and tones that you usually don’t get rehearsing. We have had a lot of fun, and we’re discovering things even still. We’re having fun figuring out the logistics.”
“The unique thing about Asbury is there’s a large group of people devoted to making each show special and the best it can be, whereas, a lot of time with theatre, you have smaller groups scrambling to get something onstage,” says Hornsby. “So there’s common goals—everyone’s trying to reach and there’s more people to help you reach that goal without being in a professional theatre. I don’t think we could have done this anywhere else, or at least my vision. It’s a very minimal show; mine’s been more ambitious. Between resources and manpower and people’s overall willingness to help, it’s been incredible.
Perhaps the most impressive element of The 39 Steps set is the rotating stage that a team of Asbury congregants and supporters built.
“Essentially, it’s a large Lazy Susan that’s divided by a wall,” Hornsby explains. “So the action’s going on on one side, and we’re setting for a scene on the other side, turn it around, and keep the show going. That’s what unique about our show.”
With spinning stages, costumes flying, and hilarity aplenty, The 39 Steps will be a madcap romp for all ages.
“I think that it’s just a good time to be had,” says Hornsby. “It’s a fun trip to the theatre with a lot of spectacle and a lot of laughs.”