David Willie and Derick Snow wear many hats in the MainStage Irving Las-Colinas production of “The 39 Steps.” From police hats to aviator hats, Willie and Snow juggle more than their fair share of hats and roles as half of a cast of four responsible for bringing to life somewhere around 150 characters in this uniquely over-the-top show.
A mix of thrillers, rom-coms and Monty Python-style jokes, “The 39 Steps” is a comedic take on the Alfred Hitchcock film of the same name. The show follows Richard Hannay, a man accused of murdering a mysterious woman who claimed to be a spy. In an effort to clear his name, Hannay must embark on a journey filled with international espionage as he finds himself mixed up with the shadowy group, The 39 Steps, along with a spectacularly large number of eccentric and unique characters.
“It’s a great fun challenge, particularly as the story goes on from place to place, going from London to Scotland and featuring maybe a few Germanic characters,” Snow said of his roles. “It’s really just a tour de force of enjoying accents from around the world and trying not to mess that up too bad. I have great fun.”
At different points in the show, Willie and Snow find themselves switching roles mid-scene, talking to themselves and representing several people all at once, even though they only appear as Clown 1 and Clown 2 in the cast listing.
“I think, for Derick and I, there’s a train scene where we’re changing characters three times in one scene with a matter of just switching hats and changing dialects,” Willie said.
“I find different physicality between each (role) helps my brain kind of keep track, and the hats help also,” Snow added of performing scenes where he’ll rapidly switch from one character to the next, such as a police officer to a train conductor, onstage.
The actors also found that performing different voices helps bring life to their characters. For Snow and Caitlin Martelle, who’s listed only as The Woman in the cast, their past experience with voiceover roles helps them to find their characters.
“I’m just the wacky person that is always throwing out dumb voices at home. My wife is exhausted probably at this point,” Snow joked, referring to the more than two decades of experience in voiceover roles that has helped him to craft his characters in “The 39 Steps.”
Martelle, who plays three different women who cross paths with Hannay during the course of the show, explained that she’s also spent “a lot of time learning” different inflections and dialects throughout her career, honing skills that she’s utilized in this production.
She highlighted exploring the show’s “wacky film noir” playground and acting alongside her scene partner for most of the production, Tucker Souther, as some of the best parts of working on “The 39 Steps.”
Souther is the only actor with a single role in the production as the show’s Richard Hannay, but that hardly means he has it easy. The rest of the MainStage Irving Las-Colinas cast all described how Souther threw himself into the role, matching the rest of the actors’ zany comedy energy and playing up the physical comedy throughout the production.
“Some of the stuff that Caitlin and Tucker have come up with, it’s just been really cool that I didn’t have to take them there,” Director Harry Friedman said. “They both are really sensitive artists and performers, and they do play off of each other exactly the right way, going in exactly the right direction.”
Friedman said that while he holds “the invisible reins” to the show and pulls the cast back in when needed to make sure each joke and bit keeps the plot moving, he’s been “very fortunate” to have a cast that’s able to hit on all the proper interpretations of the script and characters while still adding their own flourishes.
Souther himself noted how fun it’s been working with the show’s entire cast, as well as Friedman, on what he calls this “Hitchcocky-(Monty) Python romp.”
It’s little surprise that with a cast having this much fun then that David Willie referred to “The 39 Steps” as “an actors’ show.” Willie said he encouraged everyone he knew to audition for it, noting that the MainStage Irving-Las Colinas production will mark his third time working on “The 39 Steps” and his second acting in it.
“It really seems like one of those shows that once you’ve done it, you’ve caught the bug and you never want to not do it,” Martelle said.
Friedman summed up the production as a “rollercoaster ride of exuberance” that’s been a great time for all involved, inviting audiences to come join the fun.
“Holy cow, it’s a great ride, and I think it’s just an enjoyable evening of theater,” Friedman said. “(Audiences) can leave their troubles outside and come into the theater and have a great time.”
“Maybe they’ll just get more into hats,” Snow jokingly added. “Hats are a cool thing.”
The MainStage Irving Las-Colinas production of “The 39 Steps” runs from Jan. 19 through Feb. 3 at Irving Arts Center. For more information about the show, including how to purchase tickets, visit https://mainstageirving.com/the-39-steps/.
The interviews and story have been edited for clarity.