The entertaining Ape & Astronaut Radio Theater production of local playwright Craig Payst’s radio drama One Corner of Paradise, performed live Oct. 5-8 at Common Ground Theatre in Durham, NC, is a stylish, darkly comic, and utterly compelling whodunit set in Las Vegas in the 1950s, when the nation’s crime families battled—some of them desperately trying to go legit—ferociously behind the scenes for control of the principal hotels and casinos in the rapidly blossoming desert oasis while Russian and home-grown Communist spies roamed the countryside around Los Alamos, NM, frantically trying to ferret out the secrets of this country’s atomic-bomb program.
The author of The Modern Olympia, Craig Payst doubles as director of this film-noirish hard-boiled-detective story, which stars David Klionski as cynical down-at-the heels private eye Jack Quinn, Fred Corlett as gregarious Las Vegas restaurateur and Quinn’s ex-Army buddy Jerry Meadows, and Katie Anderson as Meadows’ sultry, drop-dead-gorgeous wife Lillian, who becomes Quinn’s client when she suspects that there is something really fishy going on at the family’s ultra-trendy Polynesian restaurant—whose books should be hemorrhaging red ink by the gallon, but remain strangely in the black, thanks to a mysterious infusion of cash from an unidentified source.
David Klionski gives a wonderful wise-cracking, no-nonsense, tough-guy performance as Jack Quinn—a pithy portrayal that would make Raymond Chandler proud. Fred Corlett delightfully depicts hale-fellow-well-met restaurant proprietor Jerry Meadows and his prickly predicament, and pretty blonde dressed-to-thrill Katie Anderson has the slinky va-va-va-voom that makes Lillian such a headturner and catnip to men.
Whether playing the golden-throated announcer of radio station WAAA, or a jabbering schizophrenic ex-Army buddy of Meadows and Quinn who’s now begging for dimes on the mean streets of Las Vegas, or any one of an assortment of goons dispatched to discourage Quinn’s investigations, Eric Devitt gives each characterization a pungent persona. David Serxner, who likewise plays a series of hoods who menace Quinn and his client, is equally effective in imbuing each of his characters with a distinctive personality.
One Corner of Paradise is a radio drama, and the emphasis is on the voice. But with this crackerjack cast of character actors, it is impossible not to watch each of their facial expressions and mannerisms with relish as Katie Anderson, Fred Corlett, Eric Devitt, David Klionski, and David Serxner tackle each of their multiple roles with gusto and put a fine polish on Craig Payst’s compelling script, which kept the show’s Sunday afternoon audience laughing even as a key character was found brutally beaten to death and tension mounted over the uncertain fate of the surviving characters.
Ape & Astronaut Theater Company: http://www.apeandastronaut.com/ [inactive 3/08]. Common Ground Theatre: http://www.cgtheatre.com/.