The annual Radio Show at the Gladstone is comfort food for the holidays, and the people at Plosive Productions realize that part of its appeal is the easy, unpretentious familiarity of the entertainment that greets us every December.
The current show, an adaptation of Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon, continues the happy tradition. There is the row of microphones lining the front of the stage. There is a suave announcer recalling for the oldest among us the glory days of the Lux Radio Theatre and host Cecil B. De Mille. There are the seated actors waiting their turn before the microphone. And there are the singing Gladstone Sisters, an important and indispensable fixture of this Ottawa Yuletide event.
The Sisters — Robin Guy, Robin Hodge and Nicola Milne — are in exuberant form this year as they not only disinter such forgotten oldies from the past as Pistol Packin’ Mama but also give a nod to the old advertising jingles that used to entice listeners into buying Lux Soap Flakes and other products of the Forties. Robin Guy is responsible for their vocal arrangements, and the dazzling harmonics are an ongoing delight.
As for the play itself — well, it’s not easy to escape the shadow of John Huston’s 1941 film classic, which remains the best of the three screen adaptations of the Hammett thriller about Detective Sam Spade and the quest for the elusive statue of a black falcon. It’s also likely that a lot of playgoers will be drawn to this offering accompanied by memories of Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Peter Lorre, Sidney Greenstreet, Elisha Cook Jr. and other memorable inhabitants of the Huston film. However, adapter-director Teri Loretto Valentik largely succeeds in giving the evening its own voice while remaining faithful to the sensibility of the movie.
Doug Hempstead’s velvety contribution as that perfumed crook, Joel Cairo, does evoke memories of Peter Lorre, but this doesn’t so much reflect impersonation as an awareness of the peculiarities of the character himself. A slim and willowy Laurence Wall throws himself with gravelly gusto into the role of the immortal Fat Man — aka the menacingly jolly Kasper Gutman — and successfully gives him a slightly Teutonic accent instead of the rolling on-screen cadences of English-born Sidney Greenstreet. Katie Bunting gleefully tackles the roles of both a tough-talking cop and The Fat Man’s hapless little gunman, Wilmer, and has a field day in both roles. As Sam Spade, David Gerow doesn’t even attempt to be Bogie — smart move — and instead gives us the quintessential private eye, cynical about his world but still clinging to his own tattered code of conduct. Finally there is Michelle LeBlanc, chameleon-like and outstanding as Bridgid O’Shaughnessy, the mysterious lady who initially draws Spade into this mess.
The charm of the annual Radio Show is that although its participants always have enormous fun with their assignments, they are also approaching their material with
genuine affection. There are certainly touches of humour, particularly with some of the things happening off mike, but the purpose is pastiche, not parody. That is its ultimate charm.
The Maltese Falcon: The Radio Show
Adapted by Teri Loretto Valentik from the novel by Dashiell Hammett
A Plosive production at the Gladstone to Dec. 17
Director: Teri Loretto Valentik
Live Sound Effects: Doug Hempstead
Song Arrangements: Robin Guy
Lighting: David Magladry
Voice Actors: Katie Bunting, David Gerow, Doug Hempstead, Michelle LeBlanc, Laurence Wall
Gladstone Sisters: Robin Guy, Robin Hodge, Nicole Milne