The Colony Theatre in Burbank is presenting a great yarn about the first days of radio in the USA. It's called The Voice of The Prairie, by John Olive, and it’s a humdinger, especially if you're a history buff and/or love excellent acting.
The story concerns Davey Quinn, who has a special ability to tell stories about his life. A young radio hustler puts Quinn on the air, and his stories ring a chord in the hearts of America. The play traces his rise to radio stardom; eventually he is called to New York City by the new radio network, the National Broadcasting Company, headed by David Sarnoff. The play deals with Quinn's rise but also with the characters in his life, including a blind girl, Frankie, and their journeys together, separation, and eventual reconciliation.
The cast of The Voice Of The Prairie is, simply put, superb. Tom Dugan plays the homespun Quinn, as well as Quinn’s “Pappy.” I really admired him for resisting the temptation to enlarge his performance to match the energy of Ashley Bell, who plays Frankie, and that of Michael Matthys’s numerous intense characterizations, which include the radio hustler, a sheriff, a jealous husband, and Quinn as a young man. Dugan is the emotional center of the piece, the one the audience follows. He has a rich velvety voice that serves him well in his portrayal.
Matthys is very versatile, jumping from comic to serious at literally the drop of a hat. It would be hard to single out any one character he plays, but I was very taken by the radio hustler. We see him go from impetuous youth to clever operator, scheming to join Quinn in NYC. His desperation and ambition are both palpable. He also plays Frankie’s (now Frances's) husband who also happens to be a minister, and whose agony at the thought of losing Frankie is moving.
Ashley Bell is one brilliant performer. When she is on stage it is impossible not to watch her. I believed she was blind, I understood her loneliness and terror, and I exulted in her brave spirit. Her portrayal is one of the best characterizations I have seen in many years.
Broadway designer David Potts has created a flexible set that can accommodate the many changes in scene. Terri A. Lewis’s costumes are likewise simple, but they easily transform to denote the more than 20 characters. Director David Rose does an excellent job of keeping the story clear and honest. He is one of the best directors Los Angeles has.
At the Colony Theatre until July 27th.