Saturday, March 17 , 2018, 5:37 pm | Mostly Cloudy 56º


Gerald Carpenter: Speaking of Stories Brings Detective Radio Plays to the Stage

Gumshoe Drama will be performed Friday and Saturday at Center Stage Theater

Speaking of Stories is expanding its scope in new directions. After last season’s successful foray into exploring the links between short story and opera, it is moving into the fertile cross pollination of detective fiction and radio drama.

At 8 p.m. Friday and 6 p.m. Saturday, it will present Gumshoe Drama at Center Stage Theater in the Paseo Nuevo mall.

Under the direction of Maggie Mixsell, actors Irwin Appel, Michael Morgan, David Brainard and Emily Jewell will re-create a radio broadcast from the 1940s, complete with live sound effects (provided by Appel).

The three stories in the broadcast are Dashiell Hammett’s “The Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cottontail Caper,” featuring the ultra hard-boiled shamus, Sam Spade; Blake Edwards’ “The Nathan Beeker Case” — the only one of the three that was a radio original, not adapted from a short story — featuring suave sleuth Richard Diamond; and Raymond Chandler’s “Red Wind,” featuring that ruffian with the soul of a poet, that knight-without-armor going down these mean streets, Philip Marlowe.

A successful actor of radio drama in the 1940s did not require the visual glamor of a Hollywood star. Still, a great many of them managed to make the leap into motion pictures. Often, they did so playing radio actors. Consequently, there are a great many scenes of radio broadcasts in 1940s movies. This was before the infamous “laugh track” and the shows, performed before live audiences by actors with scripts in their hands, would have been very much like the ones we will see this weekend at the Center Stage.

Howard Duff was the original radio Sam Spade, Dick Powell the one and only radio Richard Diamond (played on television later, by David Janssen), and Van Heflin was the first radio Philip Marlowe.

(Powell had played Marlowe in the 1944 film Murder, My Sweet, and in the one-hour radio play of the same name in 1945; the role was decisive in Powell’s successful self-transformation from the fruity, light-footed tenor of the 1930s films of Busby Berkeley into the perfect tough-guy anti-hero of the 1940s).

Radio drama works more like a movie than a stage play, with the listener creating the visible elements inside his or her head, an ideal world. It lasted much longer as a vital force in Great Britain than in the United States. I remember, in the 1960s, listening spellbound to a BBC adaptation of William Golding’s first novel, Free Fall (“When did I lose my freedom? For once I was free, and could choose”). It is extinct, now, and can’t be revived, except temporarily, as here — just long enough for us to appreciate yet another world we have lost.

Tickets to Gumshoe Drama are $22 for general admission and $15 for students. For tickets and showtimes, call the Center Stage box office at 805.963.0408 or click here.

— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributing writer. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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