After successfully turning Richard Thomas’ first novel of the D.B. Murphy series into a stage play, director Bill Murphy and the author thought why not keep a good thing going.
The result is the upcoming live radio-style broadcast of Thomas’ 1997 novel The Lost Tire Gang, which is to hit the Roxy stage Sept. 27-29.
“Last year was very successful and at one time we were just going to do the first one and weren’t sure if we were going to continue,” Murphy said Friday. “But the audience loved it, we had a lot of fun and we were able to raise some nice money for the Roxy. All those things encouraged us to go on.”
The Owen Sound Little Theatre production of Thomas’ 1995 novel Gas Head Willy last year came to fruition after Murphy approached the author about the idea, after having mentioned it to him a couple of times over the years. Thomas, who had always said he would consider it as long as he wasn’t involved, was quickly convinced to take on the title role of the private detective in the work. He is back again playing D.B Murphy in the second production.
Like the director, the author was happy about how the first production went, and also heard a lot of positive feedback from the community. Thomas added that it was hard not to continue on with the next book, considering Murphy ended the play by telling the audience to “stay tuned for the next episode, The Lost Tire Gang.”
“People immediately started asking and the expectation was there,” said Thomas, who this time around took very little convincing to get onboard.
He said it is strange to be revisiting the novels more than 20 years after he wrote them, but it is special to be able to breathe new life into them in a whole new format.
“I’m maybe not as reluctant a participant this time around as I was the first time around,” said Thomas. “I am actually having a lot of fun this time around.”
The stage production sticks closely to the original plot of the book. Like all of Thomas’ books, the history is true, and the plot is fictional.
Set in 1922, it takes place in many different locations in Grey-Bruce, from the Bognor Marsh to The Corran north of Wiarton, and many points in between, including stops in Clavering, Bruce’s Caves and the Pacific Hotel in Wiarton.
The book is about a gang who used a method of theft from the 1920s where a big wooden-spoked wheel would be dropped in the middle of the road. When a car stopped the bandits would jump out and rob the driver of the car. The Lost Tire Gang is actually a group of wayward Bernardo children, who had been sent from the British Isles in the late 1800s and early 1900s to essentially work on farms in Canada. D.B Murphy is called upon to put an end to the gang.
Director Murphy said the script of the second production is similar to how the first was done, though this time around more comes out through the dialogue of the actors, rather than through narration.
There are a couple of dozen people involved in the production, including producer and assistant stage manager Kathleen Murphy, stage manager Connie Vincent, and Joan Spence in wardrobe.
There are about 10 actors, many who voice multiple characters.
“It is more voice acting than we normally do here,” said Murphy. “Especially when the actors take on two or three roles, you have to make them distinctive.”
Like with the first adaptation, Murphy took some time to pare the novel down into the stage play format. It was then presented to Thomas, and the two went back and forth with ideas and adjustment, while Maryann Thomas of the Gingerpress Bookshop and Cafe helped out with the editing process. As of Friday the actors and crew were working off the eighth version of the script, with the director and author agreeing that it would likely continue to evolve right up to opening night.
The plays follow the format of the radio dramas from the early part of the last century, where people would gather around the radio in a darkened living room while the voice actors and sound effects people known as foley artists would bring the story to life. The Roxy productions are set up as if there is a live studio audience watching the taping of the show, which includes the actors, foley artists, and even the piano player Max Clark.
Thomas said perhaps the biggest change from the first production has been how foley artists Mike Tettenborn, Jack Goad and Martin Cooper have expanded on their special effects repertoire.
“They have invented all sorts of new gizmos and gadgets to make the sounds that we need. One of the sounds is a steam engine coming into the station and they have done a great job in making it sound as though that is what you are hearing.”
Also mixed into the production are radio advertisements, selling the businesses and products of the time period. There is one that lists the menu of the Pacific Hotel, while another is for Gorbet’s Furs, which opened in 1919, featuring Ruth Gorbet. There are ads for the Heidelberg electric belt, a secret liquor cure, and for de-worming children.
Murphy said they had a lot of fun with it, and if it is as well received as the first one, there is a possibility they will continue on with the next novel, 1999’s The Thimblerig.
“It is a great opportunity as a fundraiser, it is tremendous fun and it brings local history to life for people,” said Murphy. “This is an amazing story.”
As for Thomas, he said he would be thrilled to keep it going. In the third book and beyond there are many more local names after he started selling characters in the book to raise money for the adult learning centre. And he started introducing guest stars – Al Capone in his fourth book and Earnest Hemingway in his fifth – and he would like to bring those stories to the stage.
“When I originally started writing the books my intent was to entertain people but also inform them about local history, because there is a lot of stuff that has disappeared and it is disappearing faster and faster every day,” Thomas said. “There are just some things we need to be reminded about in this area.”
The Lost Tire Gang runs Sept. 27 to 29 beginning at 7:30 p.m. each night. Tickets are $20 and are available online at roxytheatre.ca, by calling 519-371-2833 or visiting the Roxy Theatre at 251 9th St. E. during business hours.