Long Beach Shakespeare Company wields wild spy story in ‘The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax’

In its second “radio-play” production this month, the Long Beach Shakespeare Company (LBSC) brings us an unlikely spy heroine who would put even 007 to shame. “The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax,” adapted by Jo McLachlan from Dorothy Gilman’s 1966 novel, takes us imaginatively around the globe through a tale of Cold War espionage, harrowing intrigue and plain good manners. 

Some book-cover designs for Dorothy Gilman’s original 1966 novel, The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax, adapted into a radio play by Jo McLachlan for the Long Beach Shakespeare Company.

Mrs. Pollifax is a widow from New Jersey whose cousin had taught her to shoot a gun in her youth. She decides to offer her services to the CIA, especially since she otherwise has little else to do. Mistaken for another nondescript woman, Mrs. Pollifax is immediately dispatched to Mexico to retrieve a secret package.

So begins a delightfully wild ride that will see the apparently indomitable Mrs. Pollifax negotiating a secret rendezvous, getting kidnapped by Cuban and Chinese communists (this is during the Cold War), imprisoned in Albanian mountains and trying to escape mostly by her own homey know-how.  

Many of the performers in LBSC’s other radio-play offering this month—a double feature of “Gunsmoke: The Shakespeare Episode” and “An Inch and a Half of Glory”—lend their formidable talents to this production as well. 

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

McLachlan voices the title character naturally and believably, and don’t miss her as a teenage girl in a clever half-time ad for the Long Beach Historical Society. While performing Mrs. Pollifax, McLachlan also directs the other performers in the KBRD radio station inside LBSC’s Helen Borgers Theatre.

Jo McLachlan (right) directs Joe Montanari (left) and Brenda DeRe (center) in Long Beach Shakespeare Company’s radio play, “The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax”

Smooth-voiced Joe Montanari is fellow spy Johnny Farrell, captured along with Mrs. Pollifax. Nick Bosy plays Albanian sympathizer Lulash exuberantly and Eduardo Mora switches hats well between the sinister Cuban General Perdido and a gruff CIA director. 

Rounding out the cast are Jonah Goger narrating the tale and Brenda DeRe as a CIA secretary. Ali Ryan performs live sound-effects on cue, adding greatly to the story’s vividness, as does site-specific music directed by Edmund Velasco.

From left: Jonah Goger, Eduardo Mora and Nick Bosy perform in Long Beach Shakespeare Company’s radio play, “The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax”

Though Mrs. Pollifax is an older character, her appeal is timeless as voiced by McLachlan. Younger listeners may have to be filled in on the politics of the day, especially in terms of the communist threat.

And though Montanari voicing the accent of a bad-guy Chinese general may be disconcerting given the anti-Asian sentiment rearing its ugly head these days, it works in context. 

These LBSC veterans are masters of the radio-play format, which works well for this inventive and engaging story. As LBSC describes it, “If we can learn anything from Mrs. Pollifax herself, it’s that nothing is beyond anybody’s potential, given we look into ourselves for the right combination of determination, cleverness and charm.”

And to experience an entire spy novel in the space of an hour is like a thrilling rollercoaster ride where you can’t believe what happens next– perfect to perk up a weeknight or weekend matinee. If Mrs. Pollifax can get carried away in a globetrotting spy adventure, so can you. 

LBSC’s “The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax” radio play is available to stream for $25 per household for unlimited viewing through May 2. Tickets may be purchased at LBSC’s website, LBShakespeare.org.

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