It's become the stuff of Houston theater legend. In 2010, audience members lucky enough to be at the opening night of Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps at the Alley Theatre got to see actors Todd Waite and Elizabeth Bunch ad-lib their way out of an equipment breakdown when the handcuffs that were tying them together broke apart onstage.
And there was no way to get them back together again. The actors improvised quickly, and so well that more than one member of the audience was left uncertain as to whether this was supposed to happen or not.
"Yes, I heard about this," said actor and native Houstonian Mark Price (Broadway: Mary Poppins), who is back in town to be part of the four-man cast of Patrick Barlow’s adaption of the classic Hitchcock work. "Another bit of ingenious improv from what I hear," he added, laughing.
Basically, the premise is this: An ordinary man gets caught up in intrigue and a manhunt that takes him all over the place after a woman is mysteriously murdered. Visiting director Mark Shanahan is back directing again and as it turns out, Price has worked with Shanahan before on this play at another theater.
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Price will take on a variety of roles (Mr. Memory, a clown and more) in the fast-paced play that the Alley is bringing back as its Summer Chills offering this year.
“It’s very rapid-fire. We play any number of roles [actually there are more than 150 roles in the play in total],” he says. The longest change time he has off stage is 30 seconds. "It takes a bit of choreography backstage," he says.
Asked why this play has remained so popular, Price said, "People love good mysteries and people love suspense. Honestly, I think it's the craftsmanship of the play. This is about four actors putting on a play, no artifice, very minimal set, very minimal costumes. It really is about the joy of play."
Performances are scheduled for July 21 through August 20 at 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays and Sundays; 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays at 615 Texas. For information, call 713-220-5700 or visit alleytheatre.org. $26 - $81.