Audio Drama Review: Mutual Radio Theater, Volume 1, Week Two

This is the second part of our review of Radio Archives’ Mutual Radio Theater, Volume 1 covering the second week of the series. For a look at an overview of the set, see the first week review.

The Mutiny Against George Washington: In the closing days of the Revolutionary War , there’s a mutiny at works led by Washington’s officers to overthrow the Continental Congress. 

Review:  A really strong piece. It doesn’t fit in the “Western” slot of Mutual Radio Theater, but it fits here better than anywhere else. The story has two parts. In 1775, as a member of the Continental Congress, the story shows how he’s chosen and takes command of an undisciplined continental rabble. In the second act, the war is effectively over, but the Treaty hasn’t been signed and the troops are waiting for pay after many false assurances from Congress.  

When I think of Fletcher Markle, I think of his behind the mike work on programs like Studio One during the Golden Age of Radio and he also was a producer and director on this seriesHowever, he does a magnificent job as Washington. The script takes a really interesting and nuanced view. It does inject some modern cynicism that certainly resonated with listeners a few years after Watergate and will still today. However, there’s also real respect for Washington even if he wasn’t the type of man who’d fit in 1980s society. It’s an intriguing story and my biggest problem is that it left me wishing this had been a multi-part story, because it was so interesting to listen to. Grade: A 

Let’s Play House: A couple plan to build a new house on a mountain but run into many obstacles. Golden Age stars: Frank Nelson, Vic Perrin, and Peggy Weber.  

Review: On the positive side, Andy Griffith does do a fair bit of narrating and I’m always up for hearing him tell a story. Also, Frank Nelson plays the typical sort of character he played with great success on the Jack Benny program. There were some funny moments in the story.  

But its big problem was that it doesn’t feel like a thirty-eight-minute radio play. The plot is essentially something like the movie The Money Pit but with new construction on a mountain instead of renovating a mansion. The story takes place over two years and jumps from comedic event to comedic event using exposition to fill the gaps. It also has really goofy incidental music that indicates that the story thinks its funnier than it is. This begins to grate after a while.   Grade: C- 

Double Exposure: A mob informant gets placed into the custody of an agency closely related to the government and is then given cosmetic surgery that he’s not told about until afterwards. The story opens with him disheveled in a fleabag hotel. The question is how did he get there? Golden Age Stars; Vic Perrin, Mary Jane Croft, Marvin Miller, Bill Zuckert 

Review: This was a really good crime/suspense story takes a lot of turns. The acting is generally solid, with strong performances from Croft and Perin. There’s a little bit of audio engineering issues when one character sounds like he’s not in the same room when he should. While this is distracting, this is still a fine story. Grade: B+ 

One Dollar Dream House: A young married couple move out of the Suburbs and become urban homesteaders, buying a large home in the middle of the city for $1 and beginning the process of rehabilitating. They also have a zeal to help make the world better, but can that withstand reality? Golden Age Stars: Ilene Tedrow, June Foray 

Review: This story becomes a bit of a counterpoint to the hapless yuppies building their dreamhouse on a mountain in the play two days before. I quite enjoyed this. The idea of “urban homesteaders” particularly in the context of buying, improving, and living in distressed property in urban zones with a minimal payment wasn’t anything I’d heard of, so I appreciated it from an educational level. I also liked the couple. They’re very sincere but run smack into reality. The story walks a fine line, it’s got great heart, but it doesn’t lose touch with the challenges of the real world.  

While like “Let’s Play House,” this play covered a long time period. It didn’t rely as much on narrator exposition but found less intrusive ways to let us know what happened. This type of thing could have the potential to be a really good radio or television series, as a heartfelt family drama in an unusual place. This was solid listening and I enjoyed it. Grade: B+ 

North to Marakesh:  A female reporter goes to Morocco to interview a warlord with grand ambitions. Fearing for her safety, her boyfriend (and competing male reporter) follows her. Golden Age Stars: Hans Conreid and Peggy Webber 

This story sets out promisingly enough with Leonard Nimoy giving great narration, setting the stage for an adventurous tale of danger involving this reporter going into harms way. Unfortunately, that’s the best part of the play.  It is horribly paced with a lot of humor added as padding. You can have a good adventure story with humor, but this uses it in the wrong way. It leaves you wondering how serious is the danger our heroes are going into? Through way too many conversations between characters, it takes more than half the play to get to the villain who’s not that interesting to start with. 

We’re told the female reporter is no fool, but she certainly talks like one in concluding the warlord isn’t a threat because he was educated in English schools. This despite the recent deaths of two reporters who went to interview them. The only remotely interesting character was a corrupt policeman turned guide. But that’s not enough to save this from being a big lowlight for the series so far. If not  for Nimoy’s opening narration, I would have graded this worse. Grade: D 

To be continued next week.

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