'39 Steps' to go

If this is spring, it must be Lanesboro for Alan Bailey.

Bailey, a Los Angeles-based director, is back for the fourth time at Lanesboro's Commonweal Theatre , this time to direct "The 39 Steps," which opens May 19. Previously, Bailey has directed "Sylvia," "Inspecting Carol" and "Harvey" at the Commonweal.

"The 39 Steps," though, is an entirely different challenge. "This is the most strenuous one yet," Bailey said.

The play won the Olivier Award as Best New Comedy in 2007 and ran for three years on Broadway. It is a fast-paced retelling of "The 39 Steps," the 1935 Alfred Hitchcock film. In the play, though, four actors portray a few dozen characters. "They're on the run all the time," Bailey said.

Commonweal actors Hal Cropp, Stef Dickens, Adrienne Sweeney and Scott Dixon comprise the cast.


Bailey talked by phone during a break in rehearsals.

What does it mean to you to work with familiar actors and technicians at the Commonweal?

As challenging as this production has been, I have thought so many times how much easier it is because I've worked with these actors and I trust them. And they have all worked together so there's a sort of shorthand between them.

What is the biggest challenge of this show for you as a director?

By doing this with a bare stage, with minimal costumes and minimal props, the most challenging part is that each scene still needs to look different, to feel different, to play different. It's like creating a whole world out of every scene.

What attracted you to this show?

I had heard a lot about the New York production, but I never saw it. I heard about the way the production celebrated the traditional culture of the theater.

Just before I came here, there was a production in Los Angeles, but I thought "I better not go see it." Rather than bring in any pre-conceived notions, I thought we could create something together here.


What do you think audiences will like about the play?

Particularly with this production, we really pull the curtain back and let people see what's going on. We're letting you see the costume rack and the prop table, and you see the actors running and scrambling for what they need. There is something going on all the time.

Is it an honest portrayal of what happens in a theatrical production?

Yes, I think it is, especially the way classic theater was done. You know, so many things are electronic or digital now. I said, "Let's let every sound be produced live. So instead of playing a recording of a gun shot, let's create the sound. Instead of a recording of thunder, let's have a thunder sheet on stage and let people enjoy that."

What keeps you coming back to the Commonweal each year?

It's the sense of company the Commonweal has, their artist-administrator model. You have rehearsals for half the day, and then you're doing marketing or painting the stage. That commitment you just don't find anywhere else. It's really inspiring.

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