Jill Wanderman got such a late start on her performing career that her opportunities to play the young, romantic lead were a bit limited.
“I think my ingenue days are over,” said Wanderman, part of the four-person cast in the Albany Civic Theater production of Patrick Barlow’s “The 39 Steps,” opening Friday and running through Nov. 23. “I had a few of those, but my ingenue roles were really over before they began. But I’ve had some good leads, so I feel like I’ve been very fortunate.”
Born and raised in the Los Angeles area, Wanderman has been living in Lenox, Mass., for six years. She has been in “Figaro” earlier this year and in “Bermuda Avenue Triangle” in 2013, both at Curtain Call Theater, and in 2012 she played Lenny in “Crimes of the Heart,” also at Curtain Call. In September of 2011 she had the title role in “Mrs. Warren’s Profession” at Albany Civic.
“I really didn’t start acting until I moved to the Berkshires,” said Wanderman, who works for the Trustees of Reservations for the state of Massachusetts, a non-profit group that preserves natural resources and historic places.
“I had done one play in high school, kind of a fluke, and then just before I left California, I saw an audition for a Neil Simon show, I got the part, and I’ve been hooked ever since. There’s a lot of professional theater in the Berkshires, but I’ve had the opportunity to work at the Ghent Playhouse and drive over to the Capital District. I’ve worked with some very talented people and I love it.”
‘The 39 Steps’
WHERE: Albany Civic Theater, 235 Second Ave., Albany
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday, through Nov. 23
HOW MUCH: $15-$10
MORE INFO: 462-1297, www.albanycivictheater.org
Wanderman graduated from UCLA, where she majored in history, and while she doesn’t second-guess her career path, she wishes she could have discovered her acting gene a bit earlier.
“I did think about acting a bit, but I never really pursued it,” she said. “I’ve always been interested in history. I know you can’t do your life over again and I’m not saying I want to, but if I could maybe I would have majored in theater.”
“The 39 Steps,” a two-time Tony Award winner in 2008, is based on the 1915 novel by John Buchan and the 1935 movie by Alfred Hitchcock. A British spy thriller, the story follows a man in London, Richard Hannay, who finds himself caught up in a dangerous counterespionage affair with a beautiful woman.
Michael C. Mensching is directing the Albany Civic Theater production. Kevin X. McNamara plays Hannay, while Wanderman, Bill Douglas and Brian Sheldon play a variety of characters.
“Kevin only plays one part, but he is the lead and he’s wonderful,” said Wanderman. “There are a lot of costume changes for the rest of us, and sometimes it might be something as simple as changing a hat to a different hat. I have four distinct characters that I’m playing and it’s great fun. Bill and Brian are the clowns, so they’re playing many different men with many different accents. It is a lot of work.”
McNamara is a familiar name to Capital Region audiences. He was in “Man From Nebraska” just last month at Albany Civic, and he has also performed regularly at Curtain Call, where in 2010 he was Elwood P. Dowd in “Harvey.”
Brian Sheldon is a Schenectady native who played the title character in the New York State Theater Institute’s 2009 production of “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.” Douglas, an Albany resident, was recently in “Fiddler on the Roof” at the Sand Lake Center for the Arts, and last year performed in the Cohoes Music Hall production of “Les Miserables.”
Wanderman hasn’t seen a stage production of “The 39 Steps,” but she has seen Hitchcock’s film version.
“This is more like Hitchcock meets Monty Python,” she said. “It’s a spoof on the movie, and the play is quite different. The movie is pretty serious. This show is a lot of fun, and it’s something for all ages, from 6 to 106.”
Reach Gazette reporter Bill Buell at 395-3190 or [email protected]