Written by: Neil Gaiman
Performed by: Seeing Ear Theatre, featuring Bebe Neuwirth & Brian Dennehy
Published by: Harper Audio
I fear audioplays that are adaptations of literary works. There is precedence for my phobia. Most of it stems from the fact that people don’t know how to describe things. Let’s face it–it’s a helluva lot easier to just write a paragraph than to get across how something looks through nothing but dialogue and foley. Shining example of how this doesn’t work can be found in the 3-D audio adaptation of Stephen King‘s The Mist from many, many moons ago. There was a scene where the characters go into the back of the grocery store in which they are trapped, only to find this rolling metal door standing open and a Nameless Horror â„¢ trying to snatch them up. The quality of dialogue, I swear, was something along these lines: “Great Scott! Look at those undulating tentacles with suckers the size of china plates, all heaving with glistening eldritch muck from another world! Whatever shall we do?” Yes, well, we shall drive off the side of a cliff if we’re listening to such shite in the car, that’s what we shall do. Now we know why Lovecraft‘s beasties all defied description–to save us from such drek.
[ad#longpost]These two plays were originally created for the Sci-Fi Channel’s website. The good news is that Gaiman adapted his own work for them. And I don’t know what experience, if any, Gaiman has in writing for audio–but I’ll be damned if these versions aren’t just about flawless. In fact, if you didn’t know better you’d think these were native–written originally as audioplays. Such is the smoothness of their transition. And the stories themselves are…well, creepy as shit. Each of them starts off with a brief episode that beggars description–you know, just in case you were feeling well-adjusted, Gaiman wanted to dispose of that right off–and then launches into the narrative with an ever-increasing sense of an impending something. Is it death? Doom with a capital D? Something far worse? That’s just it–you’re in Gaiman country. Don’t try to figure it out, you’ll just make it worse on yourself–he’ll explain what he aims to in due time.
Of course, the atmosphere provided by Gaiman’s stories and interp by themselves couldn’t complete the picture. You’ve got to have the excellent work done by director/producer Brian Smith and sound designer John Colucci. Everything background and music-wise is there, and you never have any trouble understanding the mood or the locale or…anything, basically. We’re all really impressed down here.
Had enough? Well, sorry, but you’ve still got the players to contend with. Two examples of casting that really need no explanation are what you have here. With Brian Dennehy as the Vengeance of the Lord and Bebe Neuwirth as The Queen…that’s really all that needs to be said, isn’t it? Oh sure, there’s some small quibbles to be had–Michael Emerson’s British accent as the Narrator from Mysteries sounds at times like he’s doing a very bad impersonation of Gaiman himself, but once he gets settled he’s easy enough to deal with. But really, the leads in either story and the writing more than make up for any small bumps in one’s listening pleasure.
A brief word about packaging. You know me–normally I could give a damn about what something comes in, just so long as it’s in one piece when I need it. However, for Two Plays, it’s actually pretty smooth. Not only do you have the cover art (which is so good, you’ll almost forget it’s not McKean–sounds like a brand of artist substitute: “I Can’t Believe It’s Not McKean”) but you also have individual CD cases for each of the plays. Inside each are the cast listing and a brief “foreword” from either Smith or Gaiman, discussing the project. Very classy stuff.
I’ve read that these were the last productions of Seeing Ear Theatre–and that is sad news, because these things are truly righteous. Anyone interested in writing an audioplay or adapting an already existing work into one would do well do listen to these first to get an idea how it’s done. Or at least how it’s done correctly. Highly recommended.