Oak Park performers thrive on old time radio
Director Mercita DeMonk and actor Lanny Lutz rehearse the radio play "The Fabulous Dr. Tweedy." | Jon Langham~for Sun-Times Media
Comedy Double header
AFTRA/SAG Senior Radio Players, Claudia Cassidy Theater, Chicago Cultural Center, 77 E. Randolph St., Chicago
7 p.m. Tuesday, July 31 (doors open at 6 p.m.)
Free, reservations are not required
Updated: July 27, 2012 10:09AM
“It’s a light fluff puff,” says Lanny Lutz. “It’s light comedy and it’s fun.”
The Oak Park actor is talking about “The Bum,” a half-hour epsiode of “The Fabulous Dr. Tweedy,” a comedy series from old time radio that’s been resurrected by the AFTRA/SAG Radio Players for a production at the Chicago Cultural Center’s Claudia Cassidy Theater on July 31.
Lutz plays Dr. Thaddeus Q. Tweedy, the mild mannered and naïve professor of philosophy at a small private college who befriends a homeless man. When the man is charged with vagrancy and goes to trial, Dr. Tweedy pleads with the judge to be lenient. Consequently, the judge orders Tweedy to be the man’s full time guardian for the next year. Of course, fun and chaos ensues.
“The Bum” was originally broadcast June 30, 1946 on NBC Radio starring Frank Morgan, an actor best known for his work in “The Wizard of Oz.”
Mercita DeMonk, also of Oak Park who directs “Dr. Tweedy,” says the troupe finds recreating these radio shows is “entertaining and challenging. We enjoy doing them and it keeps us sharp for when we get called for another job whether it’s an on-camera or a radio voice over spot.”
Audiences will enjoy the stories, she expects. “They’ll get a couple of morals to this story. Kindness is one of them of course, but they’ll also get to see some turn about with some characters you think are going to be rugged characters who turn out to be nice and then other people who have some devious things going. So it’ll be an interesting show for the audience. I know it’ll be appealing.”
To keep the performance as close to the original as possible, the actors read their scripts through old microphones facing straight ahead. Enhanced with ’40s style sound effects such as drum rolls, symbol crashes, plane zooming and more, these productions have a unique visual aspect as well.
“What we try to do is show what a radio show from the ’40s would look like. We do the show as it was done in the 40s,” said DeMonk. “I think radio is absolutely fascinating. We’ve got some live sound effects people there and once in a while musicians — and I think for an audience to see a live radio broadcast is an education in itself.”
The cast of nine includes professional actors with varied experience. For instance, retired ABC-TV broadcaster Joel Daly, cast against type here, plays the episode’s hobo.
“Casting is so important and I think I have found the right characters who all have good comedic talent,” said DeMonk. “I think it’s going to work the way it should work.”
For Lutz, acting is a passion. “I want to fly before I die,” he says, in a metaphorical mood. Lutz has made his mark in radio, film and theater, and continues to be an active performer. He will soon play the roles of Willy Loman in “Death of a Salesman” and Vandergelder in “The Matchmaker” at New Harmony Theatre in Indiana.
Right now he’s focused on Prof. Tweedy, who he calls amusing and “a little bit pompous, but in a funny way.” To prepare for the role, he followed watched Morgan as Tweedy on the Internet and studied his work in “The Wizard of Oz.”
“It’s fun to explore and fun to find the character,” he said. “I’m trying to balance having fun with the part and getting what’s already written in the part. Tweedy is the perfect name because he’s a tweedy guy, he’s a professor and it’s all in fun. It’s not a serious thing.”
Lutz explains he enjoys all facets of acting, but says it is best to do comedy in front of a live audience.
DeMonk agrees, and says that the challenge is, as always, to nail all the character nuances that make the show “the funny thing that I hear in my head.”