St. James High School will put on their spring play Friday and Saturday at the Little Theater, and it will be “Vintage Hitchcock: A Live Radio Play,” said Director Sandy Sunde.
Penned by Joe Landry, the play is done in the style of 1940s radio--like “Suspense,” the radio drama series than ran from 1942-1962 on CBS Radio. It combines three of Alfred Hitchcock’s earlier films, “The Lodger,” “Sabotage,” and “The 39 Steps.”
Sunde said the program was initially designed for five actors to play all roles in all three stories-- and perform all the sound effects--but she is breaking it down into three components for her students. A handful will do the first act, “The Lodger,” 10 will be in “Sabotage,” and another 10 will perform “39 Steps”--which she called the “most famous” work of the three. Only the announcer runs continuously through all three acts.
“The people doing the sound effects are really having fun,” she said. “That takes lots of creativity.”
The students are excited about the prospect of “not being themselves,” Sunde added. “This is something different, something we hadn’t done before, and it’s great fun.”
Karina Hernandez, a senior, will head off to college this fall with the goal of eventually becoming a social worker, but, for now, she’s concentrating on mastering a British accent for her role in “The 39 Steps.”
“(The accent) is steady and progressing,” she said Monday night. “I hope it’s not as bad as I think it is.”
She’s been watching Brits in films, like “The Corpse Bride,” she said, but the vast majority of characters she’s seen have been males, and her character is a woman. Her character in “The 39 Steps” is “stuck-up in a way, and she doesn’t like the idea of getting caught up in the spy business, but she begins to soften up.”
Colin Hoppe, a junior, is Robert Bunting in “The Lodger.” Bunting and his wife, Ellen, run a London bed and breakfast, and they’re willing to take the munificent sum of 42 shillings a week for a room from an eccentric fellow who Ellen Bunting begins to believe is a serial killer because they need the money to bring their daughter back from the English countryside. This is Hoppe’s third year doing theater at the high school.
“Robert Bunting is a relaxed guy, but he’s worried about his family,” Hoppe said. “He’s trying to raise the money to bring his daughter back, because we don’t have the money to raise her.”
Hoppe said getting into character as a devoted father was the most challenging part of the role, because he obviously can’t bring any firsthand life experience to such a part.
Michael Wessels, a junior, was born and raised in Israel before a job opportunity for his father brought them to St. James a few years ago, and he plays a Russian spy intent on blowing up London in “Sabotage.” He said there were many Russians where he grew up in Israel, so he felt he could manage the accent with aplomb. He’s been in every play at the high school since Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” last spring, and said it’s “fun, yet different” to play a villain in “Sabotage.” And, though he plays a terrorist bomber, he’s also familiar with the real thing, having had to sleep in bomb shelters when Israel was under attack in 2006.
“The U.S. is a great place, and I love it,” he said. “You really can’t compare (it to Israel); it’s a different experience, but I’ve had lots of friends in both places.”
Chenoa DePoppe, a junior, is “Winnie” in “Sabotage. She played “Princess Winnifred” in the school’s fall play, “Once Upon a Mattress,” so if she manages to play a certain beloved, adorable, yellow bear anytime soon, she’ll have hit the trifecta of “Winnie” roles.
In “Sabotage,” her character is married to a man involved with a terrorist plot, but she also becomes involved--first platonically, and then romantically--with an investigator, she said. “It’s a really good part; she’s trusting, and she wants to believe her husband.”
DePoppe has been in theater since she was a freshman, but she said this production presented the unique difficulty of playing two roles. One must play a radio show actor who is playing an actor in the given play--in her case, ”Sabotage.” Being constrained to only standing in front of a microphone is limiting; virtually all the acting must be done with the voice, and that makes expressing emotion tough.
Sunde concurred with DePoppe, saying, “It is a challenge to get (the students) to exude the energy to keep the audience interested.”
Even with those difficulties, DePoppe still embraces theater.
“Being on stage is a way of expressing yourself,” she said. “You can be different--be crazy.”
Prior to “Vintage Hitchcock,” a handful of students will also be performing a brief one-act, “A Funny Thing Happened on the way to 5th Hour,” as sort of a theatrical amuse-bouche. The play is directed by senior theater stalwart Derrick Shupe, functioning as what amounts to his own personal curtain call.
“It’s about trying to get a date to prom, so it’s timely,” Sunde said of the play.
The shows on Friday and Saturday both begin at 7:30 p.m.
For the complete article, including more information on Hitchcock's adaptations of these three stories, please pick up a copy of yesterday's print version of the St. James Plaindealer--available now.