Legend has it, Shakespearean actor Edmund Kean said “Dying is easy. Comedy is hard.”
The cast and crew of Oklahoma City Community College Theatre will be cooking up laughs with John Buchans’s production of “The 39 Steps,” set for April 27-29 at 7:30 p.m. at the Bruce Owen Theater.
The play is directed by OCCC Theatre Program Director Brent Noel.
“Comedy is hard,” Noel said. “You have to set up the punchline, work on the timing of certain bits, and the audience needs to know that the actors are in control of the show, so then they can sit back and relax.”
“The 39 Steps” was originally adapted by Patrick Barlow, from a 1935 film by Alfred Hitchcock. The once dread-filled thriller is now being represented as an outlandish, slapstick comedy for the stage. It follows a suave gentleman by the name of Richard Hannay, who is wrongly accused of murder. He becomes a fugitive, and is determined to find this missing murderer.
Noel said most of the actors are familiar with realistic type acting, and the exaggerated cartoonish nature of the production is really taking things up a notch.
“A lot of times people are not used to exaggerating and going over-the-top, and so you kind of have to push them to make them realize they can do more than they’re capable of,” Noel said.
In the lead role as Hannay, Theatre Major Marshal Stringer said this is his first principal role in a big production.
“It’s really tough,” he said. “I haven’t been in a professional production as a lead role like this. I’m not the most funny person I’d say, but I’ll do my best to open myself up onstage and just try to make people laugh.”
The production features clever set pieces and quick scene and character changes at breakneck speeds. The actors will be doing all the striking scene to scene, and seven of the actors will be playing more than one hundred characters.
Theatre Major Kyle Yount is one of those actors. He said he’s played multiple characters before, but this is the most he’s played at one time.
“The most difficult part is the quick changes of costume in between scenes,” he said. “However, with rehearsal and the help of some awesome costumers and dressers, it’s been a lot easier.”
Yount said the cast and crew have developed positive working relationships, and it has shaped the production into what it has become. “My experience with the cast and crew has been awesome. Everyone is a joy to be around, and they all work so hard so we can put on an amazing show,” he said.
“It’s sort of like a team sport where everyone is working toward a common goal,” Noel said. “Sometimes it’s good to escape and say ‘ha ha ha, the world is funny, and also dangerous.’”
“The cast had to find out that if you’re playing comedy, it has to be done as though it’s life or death to these characters,” he said. “I decided we needed something comical with the way that things are in the world right now. It never hurts to have a good laugh at how ridiculous the human condition is or our foibles. Sometimes you have to laugh to keep from crying.”