Dallas — And now, from radio station WKIL at the beautiful Bath House Cultural Center on the shores of White Rock Lake, Pegasus Theatre presents a live “broadcast” of Deadline!
Pegasus Theatre Artistic Director Kurt Kleinmann has written 16 comedy-murder mysteries featuring Harry Hunsacker, self-billed as “world-famous detective and aspiring actor.” He’s dumb as a stump, totally ignorant of that reality, and has a knack for wandering onto murder scenes.
Kleinmann, who always appears as Harry, also invented the company’s trademarked Living Black and White production style wherein lighting, set, costumes, makeup and sound design mimic the look and dramatic feel of detective films from the ’30s. For several years, a new play has premiered over the New Year’s holiday at the Eisemann Center, freshly packaged in black and white. Harry’s fans, new and old, never miss a show—and some see each show at least twice.
Now, Kleinmann and company have begun a series of readings, minus the B&W visual effects, of the popular plays in a style he calls RadioVision. Instead of conventional reading with actors sitting in chairs and reading their parts, director A. Raymond Banda has the actors in Deadline! stand in front of big silver mikes from radio’s early days to read their scripts from music stands. The scene is very laidback and comfortable, as the actors gather on the stage. Everybody wears retroish outfits and hairstyles from the ’30s.
Working from a tabletop behind the actors is John Harvey, the “sound artist,” announcer and narrator, introducing the commercial jingle for Killen’s Ionized Coffee, summarizing the physical action, and making us hear the smack of a fist, the creak of a door or feet shuffling up a staircase. Fun to hear—and watch, especially when the smack of the fist lands slightly behind the reader’s gesture.
Radio is hot right now, and vintage radio clips are enjoying a heyday on YouTube. Tickets for a live broadcast of NPR programs must be reserved months ahead. Certainly, the faux old-time radio style is a smart and appealing platform for Harry and company to reprise the popular plays with minimal fuss. In fact, the show is sharing the Bath House stage with a company doing matinees only, and the Pegasus folks just set up their mikes and stands in front of the bricks and ivy of Heroes, the current One Thirty Productions show.
Good actors reading a funny play are wonderfully entertaining, and the Pegasus regulars don’t disappoint. Kleinmann’s clueless expression and loveable addiction to all things theater shows on his face. The eight actors gesture wildly and shout out their arguments or whispered doubts, then take their seats at the side of the stage. Nobody misses a cue, and the deadpan humor works fine without makeup.
The current show is the third in this reading series, presented by the year in which the play’s action is set, rather than the year Kleinmann actually wrote them. First produced in 1999, in Deadline! hapless Harry and his smart paid-by the hour assistant Nigel (Ben Bryant) show up before the real cop Lt. Foster (Chad Cline) at The Daily Journal. A murderer is about to be executed that Journal reporters helped nail, and a colleague was just killed by falling into the giant printing press. Everybody’s scared and anybody could be the killer in a newsroom full of the sort of juicy suspects we’ve come to expect in a Kleinmann mystery.
From the glamorous gossip columnist (Leslie Patrick, who was also in the original production) to the ambitious editor (Max Green), nobody escapes Harry’s stumbling scrutiny. When he gets derailed on a hilariously confused attempt at seeking a clue based on numerology, the editor has his doubts about his hire. “Do you think he’s just pretending to be a moron?” he asks.
Still, Harry’s all over it when he recognizes a beautiful young stage actress (Bailey Lawrence), and hopes she can help him with the audition he has to get to that evening. In fact, Harry’s audition slot is also clock-time for the play, and Harry regularly reminds Nigel he has to solve the mystery in X number of minutes to get to the theater on time. Under such pressure, Harry doesn’t mess around with niceties. “Which one of you people is the crazed, homicidal maniac who committed this murder?” he asks.
Not that easy, Harry. We still have some laughs to get through right here before you take off for the next theater. Old fan or newbie to the Harry plays, Deadline! is a fun way to get acquainted with RadioVision and the unique and enduring Pegasus comedy legacy.