KTWU broadcasts old school radio show, tells tales of Poe

Paige Stonerock

Leather shoes beat out the sound of footsteps, the stabbing of a pumpkin mimics a murder and a drum embodies the ever-increasing heartbeat of a “tell-tale heart” in “Twisted Tales of Poe,” a 1940s-style radio drama staged for television.

Local playwright and Washburn adjunct Philip Grecian took Edgar Allan Poe stories and adapted them into a radio play set in the death row of Boston’s Leverett Street Jail. Each prisoner recounts their horrifying crimes and descents into madness in adaptations of “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Cask of Amontillado,” ending with a trip into the mind of a catatonic prisoner-poet for “The Raven.”

“Poe doesn’t write strong plots,” said Grecian. “[He] writes prose that conjures up a feel that gives you a sense of what is going on, that gives you an attitude about the story and generally scares the hell out of you.

“When you go then to adapt them, you see that what he has done is like a magic trick, because there are all sorts of story holes that he knows are there but he also knows that you are not going to see because of the provocative nature of the verbiage.”

Like Poe’s stories, the radio play leaves much to the audience’s imagination, but that does not mean there is little to watch. Actors will dress in 1940s garb to “gently maintain the illusion” of the Golden Age of radio as they huddle around vintage microphones to read their scripts. The cameras will take the viewer behind the scenes with shots of the sound effects and studio crews. The set includes posters from real radio plays and a painting of Edgar Allan Poe.

The props in this radio drama each have their own stories: a bust of Pallas for “The Raven” was made using a broken planter, a peanut butter jar, bandages and plastic foam.

“Theater people can make things out of nothing,” said Grecian. “It’s kind of like these sound effects [machines] that Ute MuÃller built. She just built these things from the ground up.”

MuÃller researched sound effects and built wind machines, a rain wheel, crash box and dozens of devices for the play. MuÃller and her foley, or live sound effects, crew of Heath and Mardine Wilson create each sound heard in the production by hand.

“Don’t cheat by recording this stuff. Do it live,” said Grecian. “It’s really just great fun. And we have a ball.”

The Karen Hasting Players, who have staged Grecian’s Halloween radio dramas throughout Kansas since 1999, will perform “Twisted Tales of Poe.” KTWU-TV Channel 11 and KMAJ-AM Radio 1440 will simulcast the performance 8 p.m. tonight. The radio play will re-air throughout October.