(Photo above by Scott Kelley)
By Randi Bjornstad
A gem-studded statue of a falcon wanted by a bunch of bad guys — and at least one bad gal — is the centerpiece of Dashiell Hammett’s famous mystery story, “The Maltese Falcon.”
Most people associate the title with the movie of the same name that starred Humphrey Bogart as the tough-talking private eye Sam Spade and Mary Astor as the femme fatale with the unlikely moniker of Miss Wonderly, who asks him to take on the case of finding the mysterious bird.
As it happens, several other unscrupulous types also are searching for the statuesque Falco peregrinus brookei.
Hammett wrote the book in 1929, but it didn’t get turned into its film noir version until John Huston brought it to life in his directorial debut in 1941. In addition to Bogart and Astor, the movie featured Gladys George, Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet.
Two years later, the Lux Radio Theater sent it via the air waves to homes throughout the country, and now, in 2017, Fred Crafts is bringing the production to the Eugene stage on Feb. 10-12, where as always his troupe of actors put on the play while the onlookers take on the part of the original studio audience.
“The Maltese Falcon is the original crime noir adventure against which all others are measured,” Crafts said in announcing the play. “Hammett was the first and the best writer in this style.”
The story takes place in San Francisco, where Spade, as often happens, is beguiled by a beautiful female, this one with the dual identities of Ruth Wonderly and Brigid O’Shaughnessy, claiming that she needs help to find her sister, who’s involved with an unsavory guy.
Of course it’s not that simple. Several murders ensue, including one of Spade’s fellow detectives and the guy Miss Wonderly’s sister supposedly was seeing, and Spade finds himself as much a suspect as someone who’s trying to figure out the convoluted plot that revolves around the statuette.
The Radio Redux production features two of the company’s most regular regulars, Steve Wehmeier as Sam Spade and Kim Donahey as the Wonderly/O’Shaughnessy character.
The rest of the cast includes Rebecca Nachison, Achilles Massahos, Dan Pegoda, Ken Hof, Al Villanueva, Bill Barrett and Peter van de Graaff in his debut with the troupe. Jonathan Ward is in charge of sound effects.
Many people throughout the community are reading “The Maltese Falcon,” which is the title of this year’s “Big Read” project, sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts, sponsored local by the Eugene and Springfield public libraries; Eugene, Bethel and Springfield school districts; Radio Redux; Oregon Contemporary Theatre; Bijou Art Cinemas; Friends of the Eugene Public Library and the Eugene Public Library Foundation.
Radio Redux’s “The Maltese Falcon”
When: 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 10 and 11; 2 p.m. on Feb. 12; free talk by radio-film historian Patrick Lucanio about “The Maltese Falcon” 45 minutes before each showtime in the Jacobs Community Room on the Hult Center’s lower level
Where: Soreng Theater, Hult Center for the Performing Arts, Willamette Street and Seventh Avenue in downtown Eugene
Tickets: $15-$22, available at the Hult Center box office, 541-682-5000 or online at radioreduxusa.com or hultcenter.org