Fletcher plays staged in Shawnee radio theatre recreation
Brooklyn-born screenwriter Lucille Fletcher is best remembered for the 1948 noir film Sorry, Wrong Number starring Barbara Stanwyck. The story got its start, as did its author, in radio.
“I grew up in an era when the radio was a wonderful medium for the imagination. When the sound-effects man sank a knife into a cabbage, the listener saw an axe crunching into the victim’s head. One of the strengths of radio drama was, and is, that it could have more impact on the imagination of the audience than film or television,” Fletcher was reported saying by The Economist in an article published shortly after her death in 2000.
The Center Stage Players will recreate a historic radio theater on stage at the Shawnee Playhouse this weekend and next with a program of two Lucille Fletcher scripts. The evening will begin with The Hitch-Hiker, a script Fletcher wrote for Orson Welles’ Mercury Radio Theater that went on to be adapted for The Twilight Zone television series. The playhouse is no newcomer to radio theater having played host to The Fred Waring Radio Program in the 1930s and ’40s. Attempting to recreate a fully authentic radio experience, the presentation features live sound effects, human interest stories, and contemporary commercials, under the direction of Katherine Neville.
A champion orator in high school, the young Fletcher moved to New York City after graduating from Vassar College in 1933 and began working for CBS as a music librarian and copyright clerk. She reportedly was inspired to write Sorry, Wrong Number after a real-life experience with a irritating woman at her corner drugstore. The 1943 radio play featured Agnes Moorehead and is set in the bedroom of Mrs. Stevenson, “a wealthy, spoiled, bedridden woman, whose sole connection to the outside world is her telephone.”
“One night, while trying to call her husband’s office, she gets what seems to be crossed phone lines, and overhears two men planning a woman’s murder,” a release for the show describes. “Her attempts to get telephone operators or police to act on her complaints go unheeded, and tension mounts as Stevenson begins to fear the worst.”
An old Bantam paperback prose fiction adaptation of the story (with Allan Ullman) released upon the success of the Paramount motion picture teases, “She dialed … D-E-A-T-H.”
In The Hitch-Hiker, a man on a cross country road trip repeatedly encounters the same mysterious hitch-hiker no matter which roads he travels.
The Center Stage Players cast features Dan Eash as The Hitch-Hiker’s driver and Valerie Cruz as the lead in Sorry, Wrong Number. Additional cast member play multiple roles in both plays and include Audrey Borgia, Trudyann Buckley, Debbi Chambers, Marty Courtney, Amy Cramer, Maureen Harms, Eric Mark and Wes Walker.
An Evening with Lucille Fletcher runs from Sept.7 through Sept. 16 with shows Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and on Sundays at 2 p.m. An opening reception will be held on Friday with complimentary wine and hors d’oeuvres served prior to the show at 7 p.m. Tickets are $18 or $15 for seniors and $10 for children. Call 421-5093 for reservations or visit theshawneeplayhouse.com for more information.