Long Beach Shakespeare Company explores the dark side of heroism in radio-play double-header

The cast of Long Beach Shakespeare Company’s radio-play double-feature of “Gunsmoke” and “An Inch and a Half of Glory,” streaming through May 2. (Photo by Taylor Leach)

The Long Beach Shakespeare Company (LBSC) is offering two sets of streaming “radio plays” this month. One of those is a double-header featuring a “Shakespeare” episode of the classic radio series Gunsmoke and an adapted Dashiell Hammett short story called “An Inch and a Half of Glory.” Both reveal the darker side of heroism, though in very different ways. 

In the episode of Gunsmoke, a 1950s radio and television series set in the Old West, a mystery unfolds when a Shakespearian actor is found with a dead body. US Marshal Matt Dillon has to cut through the suspect’s British-accented dramatic dialogue to figure out if he committed murder, and why.

Six performers in the KBRD radio studio, set inside LBSC’s Helen Borgers Theatre, bring the episode to life with music and sound effects. The whole production comes together seamlessly. Each character is well played by the six actors. And their sound effects, including footsteps, doors opening, horses clopping, insects buzzing, wind blowing and a cat’s meow, are all smoothly integrated.  

The old radio show pacing is pleasantly meditative even though the plot is suspenseful. Similarly, director Joe Montanari projects a calmly assuring yet authoritative voice as Dillon. Part of the production’s enjoyment is its overall soothing quality amid gunshots, blood and a dangerous hostage situation involving children.

The marshal is assisted by Wyatt Najarian as Chester and Jonah Goger as Doc, with Matt Brown reciting Shakespeare as the accused thespian. Ali Ryan executes most of the sound effects on cue. And the talented Jo McLachlan gives each female character a unique voice, including the mother held hostage, and makes an excellent cat. 

“An Inch and a Half of Glory,” the second feature, is decidedly more literary and equally enjoyable. Adapted into a radio play by LBSC Artistic Director Brando Cutts, the story was originally written in 1927 though only published in 2013.

“Unlike Hammett’s best-known works — including The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man — there is no crime at the heart of the conflict,” Cutts says. “Instead, the tale features Earl Parish as a working man whose life is upended after he rescues a small child from a burning building.” 

Parish has to come to terms with being a local hero when the newspaper reports of his bravery in an inch-and-a-half of column space. We experience Parish’s excruciating thoughts, from his Hamlet-like uncertainty in rescuing the child to his painful embarrassment at being hailed a hero. 

But Parish’s humility soon morphs into an inflated opinion of his “ancestral courage” not watered down by modern industrialization, unlike the “sheep” surrounding him. That tension between Parish and his fellow humans escalates as the story takes unexpected twists and turns. 

The same six actors perform the adapted story just as smoothly as the Gunsmoke episode. Najarian narrates the story as Goger very effectively voices Parish’s transforming persona, with the other actors filling in the remaining dialogue, complete with urban accents. 

Intricate sound effects help establish the settings of a bustling street corner, train station and burning building. Simple yet evocative piano, clarinet and violin music (directed by Edmund Velasco) help transition between scenes. And the cast performs an extended clever advertisement for a local sponsor between the two half-hour segments. 

While the two stories in this double feature are different in feel, they both portray a darker side to heroism. What would you do to be seen as a hero? And what might you do once you become one? The talented LBSC cast and crew allow you to explore those questions through their newest radio plays, now streaming. 

Tickets for the Long Beach Shakespeare Company’s radio-play double-feature of “Gunsmoke” and “An Inch and a Half of Glory” are available for $25 per household for unlimited viewing through May 2 at LBShakespeare.org.

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