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Perseverance kicks off this year's "Big Season" with a play that's big fun, Patrick Barlow's "The 39 Steps."
On Stage: Perseverance opens season with exhilarating comedy '39 Steps' 092111 AE 1 Capital City Weekly Perseverance kicks off this year's "Big Season" with a play that's big fun, Patrick Barlow's "The 39 Steps."

Photo By Akiko Nishijima Rotch

From left, Aram Aghazarian, Roblin Gray Davis and Jed Hancock-Brainerd star (along with Rebecca Noon) in "The 39 Steps" opening this Friday at Perseverance Theatre. Bostin Christopher directs Patrick Barlow's theatrical adaptation of the Alfred Hitchcock film.


Photo By Akiko Nishijima Rotch

Rebecca Noon plays various women Richard Hannay encounters in "The 39 Steps" opening this Friday at Perseverance Theatre. Bostin Christopher directs Patrick Barlow's theatrical adaptation of the Alfred Hitchcock film.


Photo By Akiko Nishijima Rotch

"The 39 Steps" opens this Friday at Perseverance Theatre. Bostin Christopher directs Patrick Barlow's theatrical adaptation of the Alfred Hitchcock film.

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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Story last updated at 9/21/2011 - 1:00 pm

On Stage: Perseverance opens season with exhilarating comedy '39 Steps'

JUNEAU - Perseverance kicks off this year's "Big Season" with a play that's big fun, Patrick Barlow's "The 39 Steps."

In this comedy adaptation of Hitchcock's 1930s film, four actors take on innumerable roles and embark on madcap adventures across the stage. From the moment the play takes off, it rarely pauses to catch its breath. It's thrilling, even while satirizing the thriller genre.

If you've seen any work by Strange Attractor Theatre Co. - Aram Aghazarian, Roblin Gray Davis, Jed Hancock-Brainerd and Rebecca Noon - you have an idea of what you're in for from the cast. The four actors, who all studied together at the London International School of Performing Arts, have been developing a local reputation for high-energy, actor-generated works such as "F.orward O.perating B.ase" in 2010 and "The Brand Project" last month on Perseverance's Second Stage. This is the first time their company has taken on a "straight play" - that is, one with a script, not actor-generated - but their company's style translated well to working on "39 Steps," said director Bostin Christopher.

"Their sense of play, their sense of discovery was particularly valuable," he said.

Aghazarian plays protagonist Richard Hannay, Noon plays the various women Hannay encounters, and Gray Davis and Hancock-Brainerd take on everyone else, from cops to spies to innkeepers. The dizzying costume changes alone are enough to keep an audience entertained for the duration of the show.

The original two-person play, by Simon Corble and Nobby Dimon, was based primarily on John Buchan's 1915 book, considered one of the first big spy thrillers. Patrick Barlow's Tony award-winning adaptation, for four players, is based primarily on the film, with plenty of additional Hitchcock references sprinkled in.

You don't have to be a Hitchcock fan to enjoy the show, Christopher said, but, "It's a really fun game and adventure for people who know Hitchcock."

The stage is set to evoke an abandoned theater. Designed by visual artist Sheila Wyne, the set is like a classic comic strip brought to life, and ingeniously allows for harrowing chases, captures and escapes. The play is honest about its theatricality and one of the constant delights is seeing how classic thriller film elements - a chase on a moving train, a high-speed car ride, a long fall - are adapted to the stage.

"It becomes a celebration of theater and what theater can do, as opposed to what a movie can do," Christopher said.

Christopher, who grew up in Anchorage, has recently returned to theater, and Alaska, after spending years as a Los Angeles-based film actor. In addition to directing "The 39 Steps," he's also joined Perseverance Theatre's staff, working on community engagement and statewide projects, including the theater's new endeavors in Anchorage.

Christopher's own theatrical debut was 20 years ago at Perseverance while a student at University of Alaska Anchorage. Acting in "Amigos Blue Guitar," he said he learned some things that have stayed with him throughout his career, such as the importance of being part of company, and the value of generating as many ideas as possible ("Ideas are free!" he said cheerfully.)

Now, he hopes to find his artistic home at Perseverance Theatre.

"That sense of pride that Juneau has about its theater, it's what drew me here," he said. "It's humbling... I want to work hard to live up to those expectations."

And this season's debut might be a good first step in the process.

"It's a great way to open the season and say, 'This is what theater's about,'" Christopher said.

"The 39 Steps" opens at Perseverance Theatre Friday, Sept. 23 at 7:30 p.m, with a post-show celebration planned. There is a pay-as-you-can preview Wednesday, Sept. 21 at 7:30 p.m. Other upcoming performances include Saturday, Sept. 24 at 7:30 p.m., and a pay-as-you-can show on Sunday, Sept. 25 at 7:30 p.m. The show runs through Oct. 16.

Season tickets are currently available as well for Perseverance Theatre's 33rd season, which will continue with "A Christmas Carol" (Nov. 24-Dec. 24); "Animals out of Paper" (Jan. 27-Feb. 12); "A Raisin in the Sun" (March 9-April 1); and "Bigfoot and Other Lost Souls" (May 4-27).

This year, for the first time the theater will be performing plays in Anchorage, presenting "The Blue Bear" in February and "A Raisin in the Sun" in April.

For more information and tickets, visit www.perseverancetheatre.org or call 907-463-TIXS.

Katie Spielberger may be reached at katie.spielberger@capweek.com.