It was a dark and not-so-stormy night. A night desperate for deception. Without a cloud in the sky, I turned to a different kind of cumulonimbus: a sound cloud. I hit play on A Theater in the Dark’s A Matter of Red Herrings and found myself in the streets of a rainy 1920s Chicago. This 80-minute audio play by Greg Garrison harkens back to the crime novels that set the standard for fiction’s greatest detectives. Directed by Corey Bradberry, A Matter of Red Herrings cheerfully introduces Detective Stainless Steal to a prestigious line of fictional Chicago sleuths.
Without giving too much away, this plot has all your favorites: a brooding hero, a bumbling sidekick, a crooning femme fatale, and a notorious gangster. Detective Stainless Steal, voiced by Amy Gorelow, is our righteous protagonist whose investigative prowess is matched only by her penchant for puns. Detective Steal and her new partner, Detective-in-Training Watley Holm (Julian ‘joolz’ Stroop), must traverse all of Chicago, from its upper crust to its underbelly, if they are to uncover a precious artifact that has gone missing. Skilled voice actors craft a playful cast of characters that nod towards familiar archetypes with a self-aware, modernized twist.
A Theater in the Dark excels at the art of radio drama, and A Matter of Red Herrings is just the latest example. Co-Sound Designers Corey Bradberry and Greg Garrison strike a delicate balance where additional sound effects intentionally create an immersive environment and support the vocal performances, at times giving literal meaning to the phrase “slapstick comedy.” A melodramatic score by Paul Sottnik conjures a moody atmosphere to accentuate the dark setting. The creative team clearly has a deep understanding of the medium and admiration for its history. While I tuned in at home, I would have been equally enthralled listening on my commute.
Greg Garrison’s tongue-in-cheek script honors a long-adored genre with a sincere whimsy that celebrates the style as much as it mocks the more groan-worthy wordplay – oh, the wordplay! The overt comedy is where this script thrives, unfortunately at a disservice to the tension that keeps mystery fans hooked. The clues and suspects occasionally feel like vehicles to a punchline where the case takes a backseat. Thankfully, each chapter opens with a brief summary explaining where our heroes are and why. Once the whole truth is revealed, there is still that satisfying shock and joy of a mystery finally solved.
A Matter of Red Herrings is available to the public for streaming beginning August 4.
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Amy Gorelow, Detective Stainless Steel
Julian ‘joolz’ Stroop, Detective-in-Training Watley Holm
Laura Michele Erle, Vesper Kind & others
Christopher Meister, Vincent Valconi & others
Corey Bradberry, Rod Wrong
Greg Garrison, Wilhelm Wrong & Narrator
Greg Garrison, Author
Corey Bradberry, Director
Paul Sottnik, Original Music