Barb and I were guests this weekend (actually, we left last Wednesday) for the International Mystery Writers Festival at Owensboro, Kentucky. The event celebrates the world of mystery with a focus on showcasing new plays – three were presented this year, including a new stage-designed version of ENCORE FOR MURDER (the longer audio version of which, starring Stacy Keach, is available from Blackstone Audio, and was a nominee for the Audie).
I was presented with a lovely award designating me the First Lord of Mystery (previous winners, including Sue Grafton, Mary Higgins Clark and Angela Lansbury, were Mistresses of Mystery). Both Barb and I were made honorary colonels by the Commonwealth of Kentucky. This is an elite group that includes Colonel Sanders, Colonel Lee Goldberg and Colonel Robert Randisi (the latter two received their colonel-ship at the event as well).
I’m not sure how many plays were submitted, but my impression is quite a few. The other two plays that earned production at the fest were LOST AT SEA by Donald C. Drake (the other Firesign radio-style production) and ABSOLUTELY DEAD by Michael Walker (starring Kathy Garver of FAMILY AFFAIR FAME), the latter the “main stage” play.
The event is held at the River Center in Owensboro on the Ohio River, a lovely, massive modern facility with several stages. One is a 1500-seat theater, the main stage. ENCORE FOR MURDER was staged in a smaller “black box” theater similar to the one where ELIOT NESS: AN UNTOUCHABLE LIFE was presented in Des Moines. One highlight was a Lee Goldberg-led interview session, after ENCORE’s premiere, on an expansive patio outside the River Center, with the Ohio River Bridge in the background, where fifteen minutes of clips from my various movies (THE EXPERT, MOMMY, MOMMY’S DAY, REAL TIME, ELIOT NESS, THE LAST LULLABY, ROAD TO PERDITION) were shown on a drive-in-theater-size screen.
People were incredibly nice to us, and we did several signings, as well as just autographing books folks brought up for us to sign as we hung out in the cavernous River Center lobby. Barb and I did a workshop discussing our collaborative approach to the Barbara Allan books, and we attended a similar one given by Bob Randisi and his partner Christine Matthews. Roxi Witt, the manager of the River Center and producer of the event, is a gracious, ebullient hostess whose warmth and kindness are unparalleled.
What made the event really special was the great production of ENCORE FOR MURDER, which was revised and shortened for live production (the original was two and a half hours on audio, and the live version is two acts, each under an hour, with an intermission). Two figures from the legendary Firesign Theater (and regular readers of my updates know what a comedy buff I am) were instrumental in the production. David Ossman co-directed (with his wife Judith Walcutt) and Phil Proctor appeared in three roles, including a very funny Ozzie the Answer, who I described as Leo Gorcey and Huntz Hall’s lost love child. Phil’s actress wife Melinda Peterson gave perhaps my favorite Velda performance ever, playing her deadpan as if channeling Keely Smith. Richard Fish made a great Pat Chambers, reminiscent of Paul Sorvino’s in the Assante I, THE JURY, and Amy Walker and Cassie Post were luminous as potential femme fatales. The approach was broader than the original audio, getting all the comic lines across but not camping it up (I had cautioned Phil Proctor that this was Mike Hammer, not Nick Danger). Firesign superstars Ossman and Proctor have been instrumental in presenting radio-style productions at the Owensboro festival. (The festival also presents films and Lee Goldberg debuted his latest short there, produced with the help of the River Center.)
But the MVP player was Gary Sandy. Gary, of course, worked with me on MOMMY’S DAY, and I specifically requested him to play Mike Hammer. Stacy Keach was approached but his schedule wouldn’t allow, and I felt Gary – who lives in Kentucky and had participated in past festivals – would make a great Hammer. And he did. Not easy to step into a role so identified with another actor, but he put his own spin on the role and brought an incredible energy that became the engine of the show. He won Best Actor in the event’s awards, and the play essentially swept those awards.
I am already considering returning next year with a play version of THE LITTLE DEATH.
Next week I hope to have photos for you from the festival and specifically from the production of ENCORE FOR MURDER.
Lee Goldberg, Phil Proctor, and Max
More about the book, and a much larger look at the cover, is here.
And another nice review can be found here, at Radiant Lit.
And this one.
Finally, here’s a fun blog post about a reader who discovered my work when she was ten, thanks to the DICK TRACY novelization. Here’s hoping she got the 6th printing (sold only through schools), which includes the ending.