Murder in the Backroom; or, No Place for a Lady

Well, they are still at it. Slamming doors, screaming bloody murder, getting into fisticuffs—all in a perfectly orderly manner, standing upright, their eyes focused on the sheets of paper in their hands. The W-WOW! players, I mean, who meet on the first Saturday of each month, from September to June, to step into the “broadcasting” studio in the (pictured) backroom of the aforementioned Partners & Crime bookstore on Greenwich Avenue in downtown Manhattan

Last night, for their final performance before going on summer hiatus, the W-WOW! troupe recreated episodes from Broadway Is My Beat (“Francesca Brown,” originally broadcast on 2 June 1951) and Richard Diamond, Private Detective (“The Carnival Case,” from 16 August 1950). Capably delivering their lines, the two leading men—Steven Viola as Danny Clover in Broadway Is My Beat and Michael H. Johnson as Richard Diamond—were more than amply supported by the four ladies of the fancifully titled Cranston & Spade Theatre Company. Indeed, they were upstaged by them, and that despite the fact that the titular character of the evening’s first offering was dead before the action got under way.

Sheila York brought sex appeal to the role of a carnival gypsy who beckons Diamond into “the inner sanctum,” which gives the leading man a chance to quip: “Haven’t I heard you on the radio?” As a former DJ, the woman who played her sure has experience in broadcasting. And aside from being a competent voice artist, York is also a published novelist who draws inspiration from the medium in which she worked. Her latest thriller, A Good Knife’s Work, takes readers inside the business of radio drama in the 1940s—with a female detective as a guide.

Voice-over artist and teacher Karla Hendrick has a voice most likely to succeed in that business, standing out even in parts no larger than that of a gum-chewing waitress cracking wise with the gumshoe. In charge of musical transcription and accompaniment was Heather Edwards, while DeLisa M. White handled the sound effects, delivering blows and popping balloons according to the cues in the script.

For now, the ladies of W-WOW! are adjuncts to the dramas presented by the players, deliver commercials, play sidekicks, sirens, or servants. Sure, Diamond’s girlfriend Helen knows how to handle a gun (as is demonstrated in one of the script’s sly takes on traditional gender roles); but maybe the company should take on some of the radio thrillers featured in Jack French’s Private Eyelashes and revive that rare breed of crime-solving radio heroines. So, how about it, Messrs. Cranston & Spade?

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