Radio noir

by Alex Boyd

“Please note that some of our sounds effects are a bit loud,” the warning read. “If you have sensitive ears, you might want to keep an eye on the trash can lids.” This note, displayed during “An Evening of Classic Horror and Suspense in the Old Time Radio Tradition,” seems a bit distant from the realities of today’s horror industry, where ear-piercing screams and suspenseful heavy breathing dominate. Yet the audience gathered at the Experimental Station last Friday to experience the Hyde Park Players’ performance quickly settled into the more old-fashioned approach. The program consisted of five scenes adapted from short stories by Edgar Allan Poe, Oscar Wilde, Mary Eleanor Wilkins Freeman, W.W. Jacobs, and Charles Dickens. The undulating pitches of actors’ voices, trashcan lids, gravel, and a child’s toy whistle suddenly held a fantastic power over the audience members, allowing the visually calm scene onstage to provoke palpable suspense and chaos. Since it was a taped radio production, rather than watching actors in period costume flit across the stage in terror, the audience was held in grave attention purely by the strength of sound.

An actor mentioned after the show that the group was hoping National Public Radio would air the production, but on Friday night, those in attendance at the sold-out show were the main benefactors. Paul Baker, the founder of the Players and producer of the show, said of the choice of format, “We hope that people are intrigued by the mechanics being fronted in this way. A lot of people are intrigued by the homage to old-time radio style.”

Whether intrigued by the creative choices of the production or by the ghoulish subject matter, it is clear that the Hyde Park community responded enthusiastically to the idea. After the show, audience members shook themselves out of the auditory trance that the Players created, and left the Station with the reverberation of trashcans in their ears.