I like to listen to stories. For decades now, it has been my routine to go for long walks, usually in the evening, while listening to books or pod casts. At first, I used a Sony Walkman; now it’s my phone. I have eclectic tastes in literature. I love Dickens; I like thrillers written by Michael Connelly and Jo Nesbø; and I have a fondness for that often sad, angst-ridden pod caster, Marc Maron. So when I got an invitation to review some new audio productions by the venerable Los Angeles Theatre Works, I was uncharacteristically hesitant at first. I am a theatre-goer. I have seen and reviewed thousands of plays in Northern and Southern California. I love sitting in a theatre seat next to my beloved, thumbing through the program, casing the set, and always anticipating a new experience.
Last year, I finally attended one of LATW’s staged play readings at UCLA’s James Bridges Theater, “Pressure.” I had a wonderful time. The performers were terrific, and since my nephew from Northern California was in his freshman year at UCLA, I was able to expose him to a new kind of theatrical experience. A first rate cast, superior sound craft, and a Foley artist in the corner of the stage made the true story of how the run up to D-Day came down to a squabble between two military meteorologists over the their opposing predictions of the oncoming weather that might have scrubbed the invasion and changed the course of the war. It was a nail bitter of a play.
The radio theatre productions of plays are not the be-all and end-all of what LATW does. Their mission statement tells the story; “…to record and preserve great performances of important stage plays, using new technology to make world-class theatre accessible to the widest possible audience, and to expand the use of theatre as a teaching tool.” The company is extraordinarily effective in living up to this mission.
Recently, I was offered the opportunity to review three audio plays that are part of the company’s 2020/2021 season—Extinction, Life on Paper, and The Thanksgiving Play.
Extinction by Australian playwright Hannie Rayson, is a steamy story of love and infidelity set against the urgent background of climate change and species extinction. A young, passionate American zoologist (Sarah Drew) working in Australia, balances two lovers—her brittle, veterinarian boyfriend (Darren Richardson), and an older, randy, “clean coal” magnate (Seamus Dever), who also has an ongoing fling with the zoologist’s boss, a university dean (Joanne Whalley), who happens to be the veterinarian’s sister. Kind of reminds me of the old TV series, Dallas. The voice actors are excellent and I loved the animal sounds.
Life on Paper
According to the introductory blurb on LATW’s website, the setup of Kenneth Lin’s Life on Paper, has it that one of the world’s wealthiest men has died in a plane crash. The insurance company representing the airline assigns math genius Mitch Bloom (Seamus Dever) to litigate the case to minimize their payout. But Mitch finds himself facing a formidable opponent in Ida Watkins (Sarah Drew), a small town actuary who challenges his ideas about the value of a human life. Ida, his opponent, kindles a romantic spark in the guy. When they go head-to-head in the trial over the pay-out, love gets crushed. Kevin Daniels warms up the story as Ivan Blumenthal, an appealing over-the-hill ball player who serves as Mitch’s partner. The show also features, Mark Jude Sullivan and Summer Spiro.
The Thanksgiving Play
Playwright Larissa Fasthorse has written a giddy farce with The Thanksgiving Play and the cast and director take full advantage of the opportunity. At first, as I was listening to it, my brow furrowed in consternation as the players reveled in goofy sit-com. Soon though, I got hip to the project. Here’s the situation. An elementary school teacher, Logan (Liza Weil), gets some grant money to produce a Thanksgiving Day pageant. She is a failed actor. She went to LA and was gone after six weeks, but stills burns for theatre. With the money she has somehow secured, her first hire is her friend (and lover), the woke street-artist Jaxton (Josh Stamberg), a lovably goofy guy with his own performance dreams. Logan has enough money to bring an actor from Los Angeles (Ellis Greer), who plays the role of Alicia, a lightheaded charmer who has has no pretensions and is content to stare at the ceiling. Caden (Mark Jude Sullivan), has been loaned to the project to serve as the history specialist. I can make no more descriptions of the action. It must be heard to be believed.
The plays are produced by Anna Lyse Erikson and directed by Rosalind Ayres. Neil Wogensen is the recording engineer, editor and sound designer. The senior radio producer is Ronn Lipkin; Jeff Gardner is the Foley artist. The show is mixed by Charles Carroll for The Invisible Studios, West Hollywood.
Susan Albert Loewenberg is the producing director.