There’s a lot more to producing a live radio play than having actors holding scripts, standing and playing their parts in front of a microphone.
That is for darn sure, if you have been lucky enough to see the thoroughly entertaining “Vintage Hitchcock: A Live Radio Play,” which will end its Richmond Hill Players run on Sunday, Oct. 9 at 3 p.m. at the Barn Theater in Richmond Hill Park, Geneseo.
The new production — presenting Joe Landry’s adaptations of three early Alfred Hitchcock films — is clearly a labor of love for director (and Richmond Hill president) Jonathan Grafft. As an actor, he’s a veteran of two previous versions of one of this trio, “The 39 Steps” (based on the 1935 Hitchcock thriller), which was done at RHP in 2019, and Playcrafters in Moline in 2012.
“I have seen several variations of radio plays and have been fascinated by the talent of the voice actors and Foley artists allowing me to paint the scene in mind,” Grafft wrote in his new director’s note. “Vintage Hitchcock” was originally scheduled for the canceled 2020 season, so it’s great to see it finally see the light.
In Geneseo, the second-floor theater in the round has had one whole section of seats removed to make room for the patient, meticulous wizardry of the RHP Foley (sound effects) artists. They’re all the more special since they’re brothers and Richmond Hill veterans Mike and Jim Skiles.
Appearing like twins (both with glasses, gray beards, wearing white shirts and brown slacks), the pair seem as busy as the six actors who bring a multitude of characters to life. The Skiles boys have a veritable orchestra of varied props (like doors, shoes, stairs, wind chimes, train whistle) in which they sensitively play like virtuosos.
Spies, murder, love, and other Hitchcock trademarks come to life as a 1940s-era radio broadcast of the Master of Suspense’s early films, showcasing “The Lodger” (a 1927 silent film) “Sabotage” (1936) and “The 39 Steps.”
This production is a triple feature, complete with vintage commercials, one story that recreates a serial killer’s ominous presence, a daring train chase, and a devastating explosion using the magic of live sound effects, some pre-recorded effects and a mysterious, dramatic musical soundtrack.
It’s not just a sonic feast, but a visual one as well — as the cast members (husband and wife Larry and Lorrie Lord, Mike Kelly, Greg O’Neill, Elizabeth Shaffer and Leigh VanWinkle) are dressed in their Sunday best, and we revel in the intricacies of the stories, as they put on the coats of a dizzying array of character voices. Kelly and VanWinkle (among the uniformly confident cast) are also veterans of full “39 Steps” productions.
Unusual for a radio play, Jim and Mike Skiles also gently purloin the audience’s attention as their wry humor creates several visual highlights. Some include when they quizzically look at their fingertips, when they hug each other, and Jim steals scenes when falling down, raising a balloon, and at one point donning as woman’s red hat, clutching a red handbag.
Grafft said later that the Foley artists were able to take liberties with their roles, adding much improvisation for the audience’s copious enjoyment (even changing things up during the two-weekend run).
The super talented cast looks like they’re having great fun as well, and even with the topic of murder, the trio of titles also is often handled with a light, witty touch. I particularly liked one of the Andrews Sisters-style jingles (music composed by Bob Manasco) at the start of the second act, singing the praises of the Bates Motel (the creepy setting of the iconic 1960 “Psycho”).
Larry Lord (who is the narrator for all three plays) speaks of its wondrous features, including the 12 guest rooms with private tile bath and abundance of hot water that even mother would love. “You can wash your cares away,” the blissful lyrics swoon.
The staff of this delightful show includes stage manager/costumer Ann Keeney-Grafft, light designer Jennifer Kingry, sound designer Larry Lord, sound and light operator Dana Skiles, set builder Mike Skiles and set builder Jim Skiles (Colona).
The final performance is Sunday at 3 p.m.; admission is $12, and reservations can be made by calling the Richmond Hill box office at 309-944-2244 or by visiting the website HERE.