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Gavin's Underground

Plan-B: Sherlock Holmes And The Blue Carbuncle

by Gavin Sheehan
- Posted // 2012-12-17 - The long-anticipated return of Radio Hour to Plan-B Theatre happens tomorrow night in the big theater of the Rose Wagner, and the company chose a fantastic way to return With its own nuances and and references to the original classics of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the company's resident playwright, Matthew Ivan Bennett, penned his own version of a Sherlock Holmes detective mystery in Sherlock Holmes and The Blue Carbuncle. The play, as is tradition, will be shown both to a live audience and broadcast live on KUER Tuesday night at 7 p.m. as a special presentation of RadioWest, with a second production at 8:30 p.m. with seats still available. Today, I chat with all four actors from the production along with Plan-B's Cheryl Cluff and Jerry Rapier about the production headed into opening night. (All pictures courtesy of Plan-B.)

Jerry Rapier, Cheryl Cluff, Doug Fabrizio, Bill Allred, Jay Perry & Jason Tatom
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Gavin: Hey, everyone. First off, what's everyone been up to since we last chatted?

Bill: You should know. I think I hear from you Monday through Friday, as you listen to the Radio From Hell show. Are you trying to keep tabs on me?

Cheryl: I’ve been spending a lot of time plotting and conspiring over directing this episode of Radio Hour and then Jenifer Nii's Suffrage later this spring. And also been doing A LOT of parenting, and wife-ing.

Doug: You can hear me weekdays on RadioWest on KUER.

Jay: Let's see. I got married to the love of my life. That was pretty cool. Worked on some great theater projects and spent some time in London with my uber-cool in-laws. I've been teaching and doing some directing for Youth Theatre at the U and the Egyptian in Park City. I've also been learning to speak cat since adopting a little furball earlier this year.

Jerry: Becoming a father!

Jason: Just working. Teaching, voice work, acting, same as always. Still lucky enough to not have to work in an office.

Gavin: Theater-wise, what was the last production you were each involved in?

Bill: I had a small role in 8 for Plan-B. I had an excellent time with that because the cast was so good and I got to hear Barney Frank do a Q&A. He was phenomenal.

Cheryl: Well, I’m involved in every Plan-B production to some degree. My last biggest involvement was directing The Scarlet Letter and it was a huge, wonderful, nail-biting experience. I think the production was great due in large part to playwright Jenifer Nii, the cast and crew. The sound designer wasn’t bad.

Doug: I was involved in the reading of Standing On Ceremony: The Gay Marriage Plays for Plan-B about a year ago.

Jay: I was the narrator for Plan-B's Peter And The Wolf partnership with Gina Bachauer International Piano Foundation as part of The Rose Exposed in September. The Jeanne Wagner Theatre was full of little kids and it was a riot performing for them. I'll never forget hundreds kids making wolf faces back at me from the audience.

Jerry: In 2012 ,I directed The Third Crossing and the revival of Hedwig & The Angry Inch for Plan-B, and The Adding Machine and Geography Club for the University of Utah.

Jason: I think the last theater production I did was SLAM for Plan-B. Always scary fun.
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Gavin: Jerry, what originally made you decide to put Radio Hour on hiatus?

Jerry: Between the three radio dramas we'd produced in the early years (1996, 1998 and 2002), the five episodes of Radio Hour (2005-2009) and the Radio Hour: Marathon in 2010, we felt we needed a little break so that we could find ways to keep it fresh.

Gavin: How did the decision come about to bring it back, and why at Christmas rather than Halloween?

Jerry: We weren't sure how long the hiatus would last. Elaine Clark, one of the producers of RadioWest, called me this past spring and asked if we'd be interested in resurrecting Radio Hour during the holidays. It took us all of one day to answer with a resounding yes! We had produced so many Halloween-themed shows that it was a perfect opportunity to try something new and fresh!

Gavin: What made you decide on a Sherlock Holmes production?

Jerry: The idea actually came from Elaine, Benjamin Bombard and Doug, and a conversation they had in a story meeting, which led to the phone call mentioned above. They aired a show about Holmes and Watson with Leslie Klinger, a Holmes scholar, last December. The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle came up in that conversation as the Holmes story -- Klinger's favorite -- that gets frequently re-written because it doesn't end as tidily as the others. Justice doesn't seem to be on Holmes' mind in this adventure as it is in all the others. He's a lot more human, a lot more interested in a good stiff drink and a lot funnier than in the other adventures. We, and the folks at RadioWest, wanted to honor Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's original intent.
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Gavin: Cheryl and Jerry, what did you initially think of Matthew Ivan Bennett's script?

Jerry: I found the first draft to be about 99.5% perfect, which is almost unheard of. Just a few cosmetic changes have been made since. And I found it surprisingly funny. Which is quite different for Radio Hour.

Cheryl: I loved the humor and warmth in it right off the bat. Matt’s done a lot of original adaptations for the show. He’s so great at keeping the original intent of the story while adding his own personal touches. A lot of times, he has to cut down the story to get it to fit within the time limit. This time, he had to fill out and expand the story a bit, which he did beautifully.

Gavin: Cheryl, what is it like for you taking on the directing duties for another Radio Hour?

Cheryl: Tons of fun. I’m thrilled to be doing another Radio Hour episode again.

Gavin: When casting for this, how did you choose the cast? And what made you go with Doug in the role of Holmes?

Cheryl: First of all, there is only one female character in the story this time, and the character is very minimal, so, sadly, we didn’t need a female actor. Newcomer Jason Tatom will be playing the one female character, which should be rather amusing. I’ll miss working with Teresa Sanderson, who has been in all but one episode. Hopefully, she’ll be back next time. Part of the fun of Radio Hour is having most actors play as many characters as possible – vocal gymnastics, if you will – and for the live audience to get to experience that and for the at-home listening audience to be unaware that so few actors are playing so many characters until the end of the show when the credits are announced. So, I like to stick with a small cast mainly because of that. As far as Doug as Holmes – when he was in Frankenstein, I tried really really hard to get him to pass out during the performance and I didn’t succeed. During Frankenstein, there was the very climatic, iconic moment where Dr. Frankenstein realized that his creation was actually alive. There was a lot of physical movement -- imaged in the minds of the audience -- and emotion in the scene, so Doug had to create that vocally. At the end of the scene, he had to scream, “It’s alive ... alive ... alive!” and get progressively louder and emotional -- psychotic, almost. Then, cut to a station break, and in the very next moment, switch to a very composed Doug with “You’re listening to Radio West ...” That was a lot of fun to watch. Once, in rehearsal, during that moment he actually said, “I feel like I’m going to pass out.” And well, I pretended to work a little to tone it down a bit because, gosh, we couldn’t have that. But come to find out, during every performance, he actually truly felt like he was going to pass out, but he committed to it every single time and managed to hang in there, dang it. I figured casting him as Sherlock this time would offer the most opportunity to get him to pass out. We’ll see. Wish me luck.
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Gavin: Take us through the process of designing the sound effects this time around.

Cheryl: Designing the sound has been a bit different this time because, for the first time, we’re not doing a spooky Halloween show. In the past, I’ve focused on creepy/disturbing/unsettling music and sound effects. This time around, for the music I’m going for Victorian-ish, jaunty, energetic music that has a tiny hint of mystery or darkness. And with the sound effects, I’m looking to underscore the humor and warmth in the show. It’s been fun going with a totally different feel this time around. We’re also adding more digital sound effects this year. Integrating a more modern way of doing sound effects with the traditional old-time-radio method has been cool. It’s also fun to shop for things based on the sound they make when you blow into them or whack them or shake them or tap on them or break them. Well, I don’t break items in the store – at least, not when anyone is looking.

Gavin: For the cast, what was your first take on the script and the roles you'd be taking on in this Radio Hour?

Bill: The script is great; the characters very full and there’s a lot of humor, too. I think I’m a good pick to play Watson to Fabrizio’s Holmes. If anybody can keep Doug -- or D-Fab, as I call him -- grounded, it’s me. His flighty genius is difficult to control, but I’m up for the task.

Doug: Well, being cast as Sherlock is intimidating, but I’m enjoying the challenge. Matthew’s script is fluid and fast-paced and a really terrific adaptation. I don’t think it’s easy to translate something from the page into workable dialogue, but he’s done it. Don’t expect much foreboding. This is one of Sir Arthur’s more whimsical stories and Matthew gives it a light touch. It’s charming, even funny in parts, but it’s still built around a mystery and Holmes just can’t resist it.

Jay: I remember reading Sherlock Holmes short stories when I was younger and I loved watching the black-and-white Basil Rathbone films. In our story, I play a range of atmospheric characters including: a once-well-to-do, now-down-on-his-luck gentleman who's lost his Christmas goose; a drunk; a boy; and a thief whom Holmes interrogates. They are the citizens of Sherlock's world and each holds a piece of the puzzle he and Watson are putting together. They've been a lot of fun to explore.

Jason: Just excitement. Matt's script is great, and it's fun trying to make sure that each character is a separate entity and not just a silly voice. Silly voices only work for a few seconds; that's why you always have to try to ground them in reality.
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Gavin: Jason, talk about being the newest addition to Radio Hour. Doug and Bill, how is it taking on an acting role so closely mirroring what you do for your day jobs? Jay, talk about being the veteran.

Bill: By “closely mirroring” my day job, I assume you are referring to the fact that in addition to doing the Radio From Hell show, I’m also a fully accredited heart surgeon and spend a good part of my day fixing broken and worn out tickers? Yep, Dr. Watson and I have a great deal in common.

Doug: Well, playing a part like this is completely different from doing my show. It’s nice to hide behind a role for a change. In fact, if I sound anything like Doug Fabrizio the radio guy, I’ve blown it.

Jay: I've really enjoyed the work and especially loved sharing it with so many immensely talented people over the years. Radio drama is a great challenge and it's a lot of fun for the audience. It's work that an actor has a rare opportunity to do these days, which makes it a treat. I feel very lucky to be working with this year's incredible cast and creative team, and I can't wait to get back into the rehearsal room with them.

Jason: I've been secretly hoping for years that Jerry would ask me to be a part of Radio Hour. Then I'd have the chance to listen to his offer, wait a few seconds while “considering” the job, then graciously accept. But he never seemed to understand how great I'd be in one, so I finally asked him; okay, begged. He thought about it, said, “Interesting idea” very quietly and walked away. My ego was effectively swatted down.

Jerry: Bwahaha.

Gavin: You're only doing two performances on Dec. 18 for a live audience in the Jeanne and a KUER broadcast. Why the single date this year, and is there any way people who aren't able to listen or see it will be able to hear it later?

Jerry: Just about as many people can see the show in two performances in the Jeanne as they could in ten performances in the Studio Theatre -- it's just a little more unique this way; a little more adrenalin, a little truer to radio drama itself. The 7 p.m. performance will also be broadcast live on RadioWest and then available online on their website for podcasting/download on Dec. 19 for those who can't attend the live performances on Dec. 18 at 7 or 8:30 p.m.
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Gavin: Now that the series has been revived, can we expect to see another episode season, or is this a one-time event?

Jerry: Oh, yes, we've already got a script ready for next December ... but you'll have to wait until we announce our 2013/14 season to find out, which won't happen until SLAM on May 4.

Gavin: What are all of your thoughts going into opening/closing night?

Bill: Anybody else want to offer me a role in something? Or maybe we could just do this a bit longer, huh?

Doug: At best, I’m a rank amateur at this, so I’m always anxious about getting it right, but we actors are in good hands. Cheryl is such an exacting and observant director and Jerry’s Plan-B team are masters at pulling this off. I can’t wait to see how it comes together.

Jay: It's very exciting to finally give the play to the audience. I loved performing the last two Radio Hour's to a live theater audience during the broadcast. The alchemy that happens in the space between the players and the front row is great to look forward to and can be exciting for the radio listener, too.

Jason: I can't wait for people to hear Matt's words.

Jerry: I can't wait for everyone in the live audience -- and the listening audience -- to experience just how good everyone is together with Cheryl at the helm.
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Gavin: What can we expect from all of you going into next year?

Bill: I don't know. I'm willing to act in anything. Just give me a call and we'll try and work something out.

Cheryl: I'm designing sound for Matthew Greene's Adam & Steve and The Empty Sea, Matthew Ivan Bennett's Eric(a) and Jenifer Nii's Suffrage, which I'm also directing, this season at Plan-B.

Doug: Tune in to RadioWest!

Jay: My family has started a foundation in my late mother's name and I'll be doing a lot of work with that this year. I'm really looking forward to the Peter And The Wolf elementary school tour, which Plan-B is doing in partnership with Gina Bachauer International Piano Foundation this spring. We begin in late February and will reach approximately 10,000 elementary students in Salt Lake and Davis Counties! I'm also looking forward to working on Pygmalion Theatre Company's A Night With The Family, also by Matthew Ivan Bennett, in the spring. Also, I finally get to throw away my collection of 2012 Mayan-calendar-prediction books.

Jerry: I'm directing Matthew Ivan Bennett's Eric(a), the second of his plays on our current season. But mostly, I'm settling into fatherhood.

Jason: Well, since we're getting this in just under the wire for the Mayan apocalypse on Dec. 21, nothing really. Contemplating eternity?

Gavin: Aside from the obvious, is there anything you'd like to promote or plug?

Bill: Don't miss any opportunity to see Kirt Bateman perform. He's phenomenal.

Jerry/Cheryl: Next up at Plan-B is the world premiere of Adam & Steve and The Empty Sea by Matthew Greene, featuring Topher Rasmussen and Logan Tarantino and directed by Jason Bowcutt. It runs Jan. 31- February 10.

Jason: I'll actually be filming scenes for a video game in January, so just get ready to plunk down $60 a pop for the game when it comes out. That's all.


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