By Ann Reily
---- — Take a giant helping of Hitchcock, sprinkle liberally with humor, blend at the highest speed, and the result is “The 39 Steps.”
Opening at the Firehouse Center for the Arts tonight, the play is a fast-paced murder mystery adapted from the 1915 novel by John Buchan and the 1935 film by Alfred Hitchcock.
Playwrights Simon Corble and Nobby Dimon turned the period piece into a comedy that stars just four actors, with three of them playing multiple roles.
“When trying to put a movie onstage, there’s an inherent absurdity about it, and they just kind of ran with it,” director Tim Diering said.
The play premiered in England in 1995. In 2005, Patrick Barlow rewrote the script, and his adaptation went on to become the longest-running comedy on Broadway.
Conor Moroney of Wilmington stars as Richard Hannay, “a somewhat-disillusioned English man” who is accused of murder and trying to clear his name when he discovers an international spy ring, Diering said.
“It’s the classic Hitchcock setup of the innocent man on the run,” he said.
“It’s a roller-coaster spoof of a certain film genre,” said Stephen Faria, who plays “somewhere between 12 and 50 characters” in the show.
“If you just add a little bit of tongue-in-cheek to that, it becomes quite funny,” he said. “We stay true to the film, but at the same time, it’s spoofing and goofing it.”
The other “clown” with a multitude of roles, Jim Manclark of Amesbury, and Ashley Risteen of Byfield, who plays three femme fatales, round out the cast.
As the founder of Little City Comedy Company, a sketch comedy troupe, Faria said he’s used to “bouncing from one thing to the other.”
But the Newbury resident admits that tackling so many roles — of both genders — can be challenging.
“This is different than any play I’ve ever done,” he said. “You really have to concentrate but stay light on your feet.”
In addition to the countless costume changes, the play also features nonstop action, including everything from shootings and stabbings to a chase on a moving train to airplane crashes.
“It moves incredibly fast,” Diering said. “It’s actually exhausting to watch.”
“It’s like running a road race,” Faria said. “It’s like an obstacle course, and if you overcome the obstacles, people laugh.”
“And if you don’t, they laugh,” Diering is quick to add.
If you go
What: “The 39 Steps”
When: Tonight through June 23. Show times are 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 3 p.m. on Sundays.
Where: Firehouse Center for the Arts, Market Square, Newburyport
How much: $25 for adults, $23 for members, seniors and students
More information: 978-462-7336 or www.firehouse.org