Back in the 1920s, the impossible was happening: Folks in St. Louis could hear stories being told in Chicago through the new-fangled radio.
And they were hooked.
Which is understandable if the stories were anything like those woven by Davey, the down-home farmer in Live Theatre Workshop’s production of “The Voice of the Prairie.”
Davey is an accomplished raconteur. One night he is regaling a crowd in a bar with a story about his boyhood travels with Frankie, a blind girl he helped escape from her abusive father. Leon Schwab, a radio salesman who has set up an unlicensed radio station to facilitate his sales, hears him and convinces him to tell his tales over the airwaves.
Davey’s stories mostly focus on Frankie. They traveled together as teens, roaming the country and jumping trains. But one night they became separated and he has spent the years since keeping her present with his stories.
Thanks to a stellar cast and a clean, clear production by director Maryann Green, the story, which jumps back and forth in time, never falls into a sentimental or confusing trap. I saw this play a few years back and found it flat. Green and the actors never let that happen here.
This is a 20-character play with a three-person cast. That’s a challenge. Or perhaps would be with any other actors.
Christopher Younggren’s chief role is that of the grown-up Davey. But he also played Davey’s Irish father, a bullying man and several others. Younggren fully inhabits his characters. Each one, even with just a minute or two of stage time, had life. But the role of Davey is particularly compelling. He is tired. He still yearns for Frankie. He is no longer sure if his stories are true or fantasy. In Younggren’s hands, you felt the weight of his sorrow and can’t help but cheer him on his journey.
Josh Parra’s characters include the young Davey, the radio con man Schwab and a wonderfully funny asthmatic cleric. Schwab is a cheat and a hysteric — understandable as the FBI is after him for his illegal radio station. But Parra still made him likable. And his cleric is a stitch.
Samantha Cormier’s principal character is Frankie. We see this blind teen with courage and curiosity, and we see that same gutsy person in the adult Frankie. Cormier, who is mesmerizing on stage, fully inhabited and fleshed out Frankie.
There are a few loose ends in Olive’s script, but no matter: it has poetic writing and this production infuses “Voice of the Prairie” with heart, humor and fine storytelling.