CLOSE YOUR EYES AND WATCH THE SHOW
by Robert Lopresti
As a writer of short stories there are a few pleasures that have passed me by. Peter Jackson hasnâ€™t turned one of my flash stories into a three-picture epic. The New York Times bestseller list hasnâ€™t cleared a space for me. But I can make one claim that I suspect many of my more successful colleagues cannot.
I have sat in my living room and listened to my words being broadcast over the radio.
I have heard my characters, as interpreted by actors, on live radio drama. Just like Jack Benny and the Green Hornet. Ainâ€™t that cool? It comes from living in Bellingham, Washington, I guess. One of the many attractions of the City of Subdued Excitement is the American Museum of Radio and Electricity.
When I first moved here that institution was not much more than a storefront full of old radios but now it is a very cool space filled with Marconi equipment, old telephones, eighteenth century gadgets, and so on. One day last week they had six hundred people inside, learning to make robots. But the relevant part for this story is that the museum has a radio station, KMRE-LP. It plays mostly big band music and is only available for a few miles â€“ and, naturally, worldwide on the web.
But on Sunday nights at 10 PM Pacific time the Midnight Mystery Players perform live productions of old radio drama and new shows as well. Recently I watched them record The Maltese Falcon. All the actors performed in costume and my favorite part was watching the soundman, complete with fedora, using a staple gun to imitate a revolver. They also had a low platform, the kind choirs sometimes stand on, which served as a place for the sound man to crash enthusiastically whenever a character was supposed to tumble to the ground.
Last year a friend of mine who performs with the troupe suggested I write them a play. That didnâ€™t interest me but I agreed to provide Stan Claussen, one of their leaders, with a notebook full of my stories He chose two about Atlantic City private eye Marty Crow and turned them into scripts.
A few months ago I had the privilege of watching the casting session. Two directors and a dozen actors sat around a table, reading the scripts out loud. The directors were deciding who they wanted for each role. I was asked to explain a little bit about some of the characters. This made me nervous, as if I were back in college English. I donâ€™t know much about what Marty Crow looks like (I did see a picture of him once, illustrating a story in Alfred Hitchcockâ€™s Mystery Magazine, but Iâ€™m not convinced it was a very good likeness). I do know the essential fact: heâ€™s a pretty good P.I. hampered by the fact that he has a gambling problem, and more so by the fact that he is in denial about it.
It felt very strange speaking as an authority on the other characters. But I suppose if Iâ€™m not, who is? The final result is a lot of fun and true to the originals. They took my advice and stayed away from attempting New Jersey accents (helpful hint: â€œJoiseyâ€ is a Brooklyn pronunciation. In the Garden State you are more likely to here something more like â€œCherzey.â€). They changed the ethnic identity of a couple of characters, largely, I think because they didnâ€™t have any actors who qualified. I canâ€™t argue with that.
Be sure to tell me which voice of Marty Crow you prefer: actor Brian Watson, or the one in your own head.