The Yellow Tree production of The 39 Steps has a family feel to it. The cast includes husband-and-wife team Nathan and Stephanie Cousins, along with Sean Byrd, the husband of director Ann Byrd.
"We didn't plan to have two husband-and-wife teams involved in the production, but that's just how it worked out. All I can say about the cast is that they are real troupers: wholly committed, willing to do anything, tirelessly working actors. There are moments that approach the limits of human capabilities, and they make it look easy. Obviously my great affection for them colors my view, but they are stupendous," Ann Byrd says.
The 39 Steps is designed to push actors -- and the production as a whole -- to the limit. The adaptation of the Alfred Hitchcock film (in turn an adaptation of John Buchan's book) features only four actors (the company also includes Tristan Tifft), who need to take on a large host of roles as they bring this twisting and turning thriller to the stage.
Byrd, who has worked with Yellow Tree since its beginning six years ago, prefers not to have seen previous versions of a work. In this case, she has seen both the original film and the play it inspired.
"I'd rather be inspired by what's in the text, the demands and limitations of the space, and the team of artists with whom I am working," she says. "It helped that my most recent directing experience was a very highly choreographed, physically demanding show as well. [It was] completely different in tone than The 39 Steps, but it prepared me for how demanding the rehearsal work would need to be to develop the precision essential to pull the show together. That was the main lesson of the play for me. It may look like chaos, but it's actually highly choreographed and precise."
Yellow Tree's small space offered its own challenges and opportunities for the director and the production.
"It does help that although there are approximately 140 characters, there are only four actors. We went with that principle with the scenic pieces as well. How can one piece serve in many different capacities? We knew we would have to rely more upon human ingenuity than theatrical bells and whistles," Byrd says. "It's a very fast-paced show, and the actors run around a lot, and scenery can get in the way of that as well. It was rather fun to see just how little we could get away with scenically if pieces kept reappearing in different configurations."
The show marks the end of the Osseo-based theater company's sixth season. The seventh promises another mix of classic and recent work, opening with The Rainmaker (directed by Craig Johnson) in September. That will be followed by a new comedy, A Hunting Shack Christmas, from the same author as the earlier hit Miracle on Christmas Lake. The season continues in 2015 with the thriller The Woman in Black and ends with the hit musical Next to Normal.
First, audiences will have a chance to follow our young hero and the ever shifting cast of characters in The 39 Steps.
"Most of all, I hope they expect to laugh and do! It's a pretty simple storyline, after all. Will Hannay figure out what the 39 Steps are? With such a simple storyline, you hope the journey is an interesting one. Audiences can expect to see a lightning-paced, wildly theatrical, silly comedy and mystery, with a side of romance," Byrd says.
IF YOU GO:
The 39 Steps
Yellow Tree Theatre
320 Fifth Ave. SE, Osseo
For tickets and more information, call 763-493-8733 or visit online.