“Vintage Hitchcock: A Live Radio Play” is exactly what it says it is: a radio broadcast brought to life. It captures the mode of entertainment enjoyed by — depending on your age — our parents and grandparents in the 1930s through the 1950s before the era of television.
The setting is a radio station recording studio. Actors sit in folding chairs in front of the stage. Three retro microphones are positioned before them. Carol Shadle is seated stage left, demonstrating her timing and expertise at the organ.
The show begins with the opening bars of “Funeral March of a Marionette” (the theme music for television’s “Alfred Hitchcock Presents.”) Enter actor Leroy Delph as Alfred Hitchcock, our narrator, who turns sideways to the audience to enhance similarities to the opening of the television show where Hitchcock steps in front of the camera, filling in a drawing of his profile. Delph intones Hitch’s traditional “Good evening,” but disappointingly, that was where the characterization ended. Although Delph was of good voice and dramatic presentation, it was easy to hear Hitchcock’s rambling narrative style in the lines of the dialogue, and a true Hitch impression would have gone a long way in this production.
The troupe presents two Hitchcock scripts in two acts: “The Lodger” and “The 39 Steps.” James Trofatter easily establishes himself as the most versatile actor on stage, first as the title character “The Lodger” where with the use of voice alone (it’s a radio play, remember), he is an ominous and sinister-sounding mystery man renting a room at the boarding house. In “The 39 Steps” in the second act, he demonstrates his range with a completely different voice, character and accent for the equally malevolent Mr. Memory.
The most fascinating aspect of “Vintage Hitchcock: A Live Radio Play” is the use of the assortment of items on the Foley table used to create the sound effects. Foley art, or the art of creating sound effects for film, video and radio, originated with Jack Donovan Foley, who developed the idea of adding sound effects to films and radio broadcasts. A Foley table, used for live performances, is set up with items used to create the effects — such as coconuts for horse hooves approaching, an assortment of bells for a clock chiming and a doorbell, a wooden contraption to create the sound of bureau drawers opening and closing during a search-the-room scene and gadgets for creating the sounds of a thunderstorm.
Since the show was a live recreation of a 1945 radio broadcast, the table was set up behind the actors. It was a real treat to watch the team of Foley artists create sound effects with not only the items on the table, but with their voices as well. Foley artist Coleen Kubit was awarded some of the loudest laughs of the evening for her donkey impression.
The piece de resistance was a candlestick telephone, a type of phone commonly used from the 1890s to the 1940s, which was used just once as nearly as I could tell. The actor at the microphone recited lines about being unable to get through on the telephone; the sound tech grabbed the phone and clicked the perch for the receiver several times. Apparently, there is no substitute for the authentic sound of being unable to connect a call on a candlestick telephone.
The three retro microphones at the front of the stage and the costumes set the ambiance for this 1940s radio drama. Valerie Meyer, costumer for the show, is to be commended for the variety of vintage apparel on the actors. Donna Wing’s bright green blouse and vintage skirt stood out wonderfully as did Kevin Shadle’s golf pants and argyle socks.
Kudos to Hancock County actor Joe Siefker, for one of the few — if not the only — British accent in these two plays set in Great Britain. Siefker has performed locally with the CrazyLake Acting Company and the Ricks Weil Theatre Company, as well as with a number of Indianapolis-area community theaters.
A tip of the hat to the Andrews Sisters (Sue Beecher, Margy Lancet Fisher, Laura Kuhn) for their tongue-in-cheek commercials for “North by Northwest Airlines” and the just-like-mother hospitality of the Bates Motel.
Sitting in the audience while the actors perform, it would be easy to close your eyes and imagine gathering around the radio with the family on a Saturday evening to listen to your favorite program. But don’t do that. Open your eyes to the performance and a living time capsule of history gone by.
Oaklandon Civic Theatre presents “Vintage Hitchcock: a Live Radio Play” through Nov. 19.
Friday and Saturday shows are at 8 p.m. Sunday matinees are at 2 p.m. at the Oaklandon Civic, 6450 Oaklandon Road.
For more information, visit oaklandoncivictheatre.org.
Spies, killers, love and other trademarks of Alfred Hitchcock come to life in the style of a 1940s radio broadcast of the Master of Suspense’s earlier films including “The Lodger,” “Sabotage” and “The 39 Steps.”