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Review: Speaking of Stories Steps Out of the Routine with ‘Gumshoe Drama’

Production provides an entertaining 'backstage view' of radio plays from the 1940s

Radio dramas of the 1940s were a mainstay of American entertainment. Populated with hard-boiled detectives and dames in distress, they featured sound effects produced with a variety of contraptions and were sponsored by companies whose advertisements for their toothpaste, floor polish or hair cream peppered the proceedings.

Speaking of Stories, the high-quality series of performances featuring short stories read by actors, has departed from its usual format by replicating radio drama with its Gumshoe Drama shows Nov. 4-5 at Center Stage Theater and directed by Maggie Mixsell.

Here, the audience enjoys a “backstage view” as the four actors, in the roles of 1940s radio performers, enter the studio, taking off their coats and chatting about what they had for lunch. Once they step up to the microphones, however, they are all business.

Another advantage to the added visual dimension is getting to see the sound effects being created. In an episode of Richard Diamond, Private Detective, the multitalented Irwin Appel opens and closes a miniature door, walks a pair of shoes across the table, and pounds a pillow with a golf club to mimic the sounds of a fistfight while also voicing the Announcer and several characters.

Appel really shines as Sam Spade in The Flopsy, Mopsy and Cottontail Caper. His dry delivery of the clever lines is spot-on, and his rich, deep voice has just the right hint of gravel to it.

Michael Morgan takes the lead as Richard Diamond in The Nathan Beeker Case. His voice is velvety and extremely versatile, with dialects and characters seeming to flow effortlessly. A smooth talker, he ends the episode crooning a love song to his girl as she bandages his wounds.

Emily Jewell plays all the female parts, from secretaries to femme fatales, with buoyant energy and charm. Aside from being a gifted and experienced actor, she has admirable comic timing and great range.

In “Red Wind,” an episode of The Adventures of Philip Marlowe, Jewell plays the mysterious Lola, to David Brainard’s Philip, with surprising depth and heart.

This is the most affecting of the trio of radio plays, adapted from a Raymond Chandler short story about a violent Los Angeles night filled with Santa Ana winds. Brainard, who played supporting parts in the other pieces, was a fine leading man here. Marlow is low-key, smart and streetwise, but not without compassion, and Brainard brought out these facets of the character masterfully.

Old-style advertising spots for various products appeared throughout, lending an air of authenticity to the experience, though they did tend to go on a little long.

Speaking of Stories has taken a surprising new turn here, which leads us to another mystery: What will it do next? Stay tuned to find out.

— Justine Sutton of Santa Barbara is a freelance writer and frequent Noozhawk reviewer.

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