At the first signs of Zoom fatigue a year or more ago, as the theatrical limitations of laptop screens and grids of faces became apparent, some companies invited us to close our eyes and open our ears, turning to the twentieth-century art of radio theater (never truly lost, but evolved in a thousand directions in the ever-expanding podcast universe) to tell stories and capture imaginations. Theatre in the Dark, uniquely well situated pre-pandemic for audio-only plays, created a short radio adaptation of Melville’s “Moby Dick” that hooked a Critic’s Choice at Atlanta Audio Fringe and Cabinet of Curiosity, in an act true of alchemy, transformed the silent German expressionist film “The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari” into an audio-only performance entitled “The Cabinet.” Journalist Eddie Arruza adds to the second blooming of the genre with “Leave It to the Little Ladies,” a neo-noir, his first script to be produced.
The forty-minute drama, based on a 1940s detective dime novel by Philip Weck and written, produced and directed by Arruza, premieres to stream July 25. A rough-edit preview of the performance gave an earful of hard-boiled, rapid-fire dialogue, replete with descriptions of leggy dames and rain-soaked South Side streets, delivered in the style of the time by established and emerging actors, including Matt DeCaro, Hanna Dworkin and a short appearance by the legendary Mike Nussbaum.
Arruza clearly had fun crafting dialogue for his archetypes—particularly the pithy shade-throwing match between the hard-bitten police lieutenant protagonist and his smooth-talking frenemy from the fourth estate. Even the rough cut was well-edited and paced, with strong performances from the entire cast. But while an estimable replication of a golden-age radio drama, I kept wondering as I listened to “Little Ladies” why this story, now? The script is so devoted to the genre it winds up having little to say about our current moment, nor anything particularly interesting to observe about the time in which it’s set. The dewy, early twenties blonde appears just long enough to be physically assessed as irresistible and testify to her innocence; the only two non-white characters are the radio equivalent of walk-ons; the police department is just striving to figure out what’s right and true in this crazy, mixed-up world. Sure, all this tracks with 1940s pulp noir…what’s missing is the “neo-” bit, how the genre can be mined—as it has been to great success many times—for fresh meaning in a new age.
“Leave It to the Little Ladies” premieres to stream July 25 at Indian Boundary Park Fieldhouse Auditorium, 3pm.