'The 39 Steps' to change: Melodrama has just six characters

The Fresno BeeFebruary 25, 2014 

Left to right, Teddy Maldonado, Kaichen McRae, Emily Pessano, James Sherrill, Billy Anderson and Tyler Branco in Good Company Players' "Alfred Hitchcock's The 39 Steps." The production runs through April 19 at 2nd Space Theatre.


We all play different roles in life. Consider Billy Anderson, part of the cast of the new Good Company Players production of "The 39 Steps" opening tonight at the 2nd Space Theatre.

By day you'll find him coaxing recalcitrant computers into submission as a technology guy for Clovis schools. By night he becomes Super Dad, trying to keep up with two young daughters, ages 4 and 7.

There are other roles for the 28-year-old as well, from putting in time as a serious boyfriend to working weekends repairing computers for family and friends. But the number of parts he plays is nothing compared to his quick-change duties in "The 39 Steps."

The 2008 Broadway hit melodrama re-enacts the classic 1935 film by Alfred Hitchcock using just six cast members. Anderson and Tyler Branco each play a flurry of characters, sometimes changing from one to another within seconds in midconversation.

"We go through many different hats," Anderson says. "It's definitely a challenge, but it's a good challenge. I love to be thrown into these different characters."

Among the 12 characters he plays: mobster, milkman, constable, train-station porter, professor, pilot and — biggest stretch — a gruff, 70-something Highlander named McQuarrie sporting a thick Scottish brogue and a kilt.

James Sherrill plays the leading role, a bored man named Richard Hannay whose life gets a jolt of excitement when he meets a mysterious woman who requires his help thwarting an evil plot.

The play might be based on a spy thriller premise, with Hannay finding himself pursued by unwelcome new acquaintances as he tries to solve the mystery, but Patrick Barlow's adaptation, with its skeleton cast, is more about the laughs than thrills.

Add to that a heaping helping of good-natured allusions to other Hitchcock movies — including "The Birds," "Notorious" and "The Man Who Knew Too Much" — and it's the kind of good-natured comic offering that can appeal both to die-hard fans of the great director and those who only know about the famous "Psycho" shower scene.

Anderson is a community theater veteran who has appeared in such GCP productions as "Wait Until Dark," "Beau Jest" and "Stalag 17." But until "39 Steps," he'd never played more than one character in a show.

"It's definitely a new experience for me," he says. "But working with such seasoned actors makes it so much easier."

And he reminds himself that he actually changes characters every day, when he transitions from computer tech to Dad.

"We all switch gears all the time," he says. "It's easy to do it in real life. It's very condensed in the show."


"The 39 Steps," through April 19, 2nd Space Theatre, 928 E. Olive Ave. gcplayers.com, (559) 266-0660. $18, $15 students and seniors


The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6373, dmunro@fresnobee.com and @donaldbeearts on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.

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