Jewel Box Theatre’s production of “Mystery Radio Plays” provides a glimpse into the heyday of radio by resurrecting four vintage dramas in the public domain, adapted for the stage by director Linda McDonald. The entire work takes place in the fictional studios of KJBX in Oklahoma City, where a cast of performers and sound effects artists records a show live in front of a studio audience.
The first piece, “The Thought,” is a suspense thriller of sorts with some comedic flourishes that follows the harrowing experience of a woman trying to stay alive after being warned by a psychic that her husband is planning to kill her.
As the wife, Christine Jolly is a joy, delivering a performance that is lovable, fun and totally period-appropriate. Lance Reese is equally great as the husband, nailing the comedy and suspense, and never failing to keep you guessing at his intentions.
It’s fascinating, and a little maddening, to see how the nearly-70-year-old piece treats the heroine — especially the men, who dismiss her time and time again after begging for help.
The second story, “Alive in the Grave,” is a bit of a dud, thanks to a more meandering script. The English accent also presents some problems for Mike Parker as the lead character, a young man who might be responsible a man being buried alive. Parker correctly aims for a lower-class dialect, but just can’t sustain it. The other cast members do strong work.
The second act shifts the setting to 1953, when more prerecorded music and effects were used. Things pick up with the hilariously hammy horror comedy “The Undead,” about a woman who discovers her husband might be a vampire. Chris Harris is splendid as the suspicious wife, portraying her ever-increasing panic and distress for comedy gold. Glen Hallstrom strikes just the right balance of sweet, intimidating and ghoulishly campy as her spouse.
The show closes with an effective, “Twilight Zone”-style story, “Operation: Tomorrow,” in which a scientist sends his assistant a century into the future, only to discover that World War III has been going on for 95 of the last 100 years.
Paul Tomlin delivers note-perfect characterization as the assistant. Like a lot of these stories, “Tomorrow” features a great twist ending.
The cast, comprised mostly of Jewel Box regulars, does an excellent job re-creating the magic of this bygone era. McDonald smartly included a lot of vintage ads — some specific to the OKC area — that played like gangbusters with the audience. It’s a real treat to watch the cast creating the sound effects
live onstage using shoes, glasses and a number of vintage noisemaking
devices constructed by set designer Richard Howells.
truly appreciate the magic, close your eyes from time to time during
the show. You’ll be surprised at just how effective the medium still is
at projecting these stories onto the movie screen in your mind.