GENESEO — Jessica Nicol White loves performing on stage, whether she's memorized lines others have written or improvising.
The 42-year-old ComedySportz veteran is the lone female in the whodunit comedy, “The 39 Steps,” a parody by Patrick Barlow and John Buchan presented this weekend and next by Richmond Hill Players at the Barn Theater in Geneseo.
A Geneseo resident, White's RHP credits include “Rabbit Hole,” “Almost, Maine,” “Dancing at Lughnasa,” and “Proof”; this is her first role back at the Barn since “Wrong for Each Other” in 2010.
But for “The 39 Steps,” she actually steps into three characters' shoes — three very different love interests (German, Scottish and English) of protagonist Richard Hannay (played by Jonathan Grafft) in 1935 London. The mild-mannered Richard starts his evening at the theater and ends the night with a dead body in his lap.
Caught in a maze of murder, espionage and flirtatious entanglements, the hero careens from the British music hall to the moors of Scotland and back to the London Palladium in search of a plausible alibi and the true identity of the killer, according to a synopsis.
“It seems like I typically do the dramatic roles,” White, who's performed improv with ComedySportz since 2006, said Monday. “It's just because it's a little different from what I do at ComedySportz, I really love being able to do scripted comedy.”
It's hard to say which is more fulfilling, she said, noting improvisation requires you to make up all your lines, but she relishes “the fun of being able to deliver somebody else's lines and make it kind of your own,” she said of scripted plays. Three accents in one show is also a challenge for the actress, and “39 Steps” also includes a good deal of physical comedy.
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“I don't have nearly as much as the guys in the show do,” White (whose Playcrafters' credits include “The Crucible” and “Amadeus”) said. “It's always a good idea to use your body to convey what you're trying to do, to create different pictures.”
The Richmond Hill foursome (directed by Jennifer Kingry) includes two actors — Mike Kelly and Kevin Babbitt — who must portray dozens of roles by themselves. There are over 100 characters in “The 39 Steps.”
This affectionate spoof of the 1935 Alfred Hitchcock classic of the same name — which premiered in 2005 — blends elements of a juicy spy novel with a dash of Monty Python.
Playcrafters in Moline staged the play in 2012 with five actors, including Grafft in the same role, as the dryly sarcastic, cynical ordinary guy turned murder suspect.
White — who grew up in Atkinson and went to Geneseo schools — got to debut with ComedySportz at its new venue last month at Moline's Spotlight Theatre after many years at the Establishment in downtown Rock Island.
“Having a new venue is really cool — what a neat theater,” she said. “Clearly, it's a much bigger space than what we were playing with at the Establishment, and it's a completely different environment. It's nice to be there. So far, it's going pretty well.”