In her six other stage appearances at the Oldcastle Theatre Company in Bennington, Vermont, Natalie Wilder has had to play a variety of completely different characters. This summer, she’s doing that all in the same play.
“I’ve done shows playing multiple characters before and I really enjoy it,” said Wilder, a New York City-based actress who will be performing in Patrick Barlow’s “The 39 Steps,” opening Friday and running through June 19.
‘The 39 Steps’
WHERE: Oldcastle Theatre Company, 331 Main Street, Bennington, Vermont
WHEN: Opens 7:30 p.m. Friday and runs through June 19; show times are 7:30 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday; a special matinee on this Saturday at 2 p.m., and regular matinees Thursday and Sunday at 2 p.m.
HOW MUCH: $37, $12 for students
MORE INFO: (802) 447-0564
“In this show I’m playing three completely different women, and while it’s a challenge it’s also a lot of fun. I had the opportunity to see the original production in London, so I’ve always wanted to do it myself. It’s one of the funniest things you’ll ever see on stage.”
“The 39 Steps” is based on the 1935 film directed by Alfred Hitchcock, who adapted the screenplay from John Buchan’s 1915 novel. It was originally turned into a play in 1995 by Simon Corble and Nobby Dimon specifically for a cast of just four actors, and in 2005 Barlow re-wrote the show. His version ended up on Broadway in 2008 and was nominated for four Tony Awards, including Best Play.
The story centers on an average London resident named Richard Hannay, who is mistakenly accused of murder and becomes caught up in a spy ring called “The 39 Steps,” a group whose primary focus is to steal top-secret British military information. Barlow’s version has often been called “part Hitchcock thriller, part Monty Python.”
“I fell in love with it when I first saw it, and then I saw it again in New York,” said Wilder. “Whenever you had friends or family visiting you, that’s the show we’d take them too. Everyone has a great time watching it.”
Joining Wilder on stage are Peter Langstaff, Jim Staudt and Wilder’s husband, Patrick Ellison Shea, all Oldcastle regulars. Directing the show is Nathan Stith.
“This play has a lot of moving parts,” said Stith, a theater professor at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas. “It is really fast-paced, and it’s all about timing and precision. There are all kinds of costume changes, there are 33 scenes and almost all of them take place in different locations. It’s quite a challenge keeping track of all the pieces, but it’s a fun challenge.”
Stith, who is making his directorial debut at Oldcastle, has performed on the Bennington stage in “The Man Who Came to Dinner” and “Forever Plaid.”
Wilder, a native of Memphis, Tennessee, made her Oldcastle debut in 2006 in “Hard Times.” She has been performing in regional theaters around New York City and the country for more than 10 years.
Getting the bug
“When I was a young girl my mom would play ‘let’s pretend’ with me,” remembered Wilder. “I used to watch reruns of ‘Gunsmoke,’ and I would always play Matt Dillon and my mother, she’d humor me, would play every other character. I got the bug at a very early age.”
Eric Peterson, Oldcastle’s producing artistic director, said Wilder and her ensemble are well-cast in this production.
“They are quick, clever, able to change character and the literal drop of a hat, and each has impeccable comic timing,” he said. “We have the perfect cast, and this is a wonderful show to forget your troubles, simply sit back and enjoy the hilarity. It’s also a wonderful way to introduce young people to the theater.”
Peterson has five productions making up Oldcastle’s 2016 summer season. Opening on July 8 and running through July 24 will be “Big River: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” a musical by country/pop star Roger Miller with book by William Hauptman. The show ran for 1,000 performances on Broadway and won seven 1985 Tony Awards, including Best Musical.
The rest of the season includes: “The City of Conversation,” Aug. 5-21; “The Consul, the Tramp & America’s Sweetheart,” and “The Ride Down Mr. Morgan.”
Reach Gazette reporter Bill Buell at 395-3190 or [email protected]