Sarcastic Voyage - Radio Plays - Mary Madison: Bury the LeadFast-talking reporter Mary Madison chases down a story in the mid-1930s in this comedy/noir adventure
Bury the Lead represents a lot of firsts for us — it was the first full-length radio play we produced with the express purpose of being a radio play (as opposed to a series of barely-continuous serial episodes that loosely connected to form a story). It was also the first time Amanda and I ever collaborated on something in earnest. We’d both done a bit of writing prior to this, and we’d tossed the idea of collaboration around. But we were both extremely aware of how a project like this could endanger our marriage. So we proceeded with extreme caution. All of that said, Mary Madison ended up being one of the best ideas either of us has ever had. We’re never going to have children, but in some weird way, Mary is our child. Who Amanda does the voice for. This is getting weirder the more I think about it.
Mary began, more or less, when Amanda expressed a desire to cosplay as something that would incorporate her giant camera at conventions. We started talking about a 30s photographer-type, which gradually evolved into a reporter, thus obscuring the original point. Also Amanda feels super-self-conscious cosplaying as a character that she co-created, so she wouldn’t have done it anyway.
Mary was originally played by Nathan LaJeunesse, when we recorded this initially in 2013. Nate’s voice has changed substantially in the meantime, forcing us to recast in Mary’s subsequent adventures, Kill the Front Page and Citizen Crotch. This 2017 remaster is largely for the sake of consistency across all the Mary stories — the script has not been changed at all. Nate had no problem with us recasting (and we made sure he still had a part by shuffling him to the role of Officer Hansen in the first scene), but asked that we still make that original version available to people. And so we have.
All due respect to Nate’s original performance, but Amanda really was the best choice to play Mary. If nothing else, because she writes a lot of the words and knows exactly how they’re supposed to sound. It’s a lot easier to direct someone when you don’t have to pry open your brain and explain your weird choices to them. Also, Amanda has a real problem losing this voice once she’s found it. Which, as you can imagine, makes my life interesting every time we do one of these.
Mary’s primary inspiration is Hildy from His Girl Friday (the rapid-fire/overlapping dialogue from that film very much informed the dialogue in Bury the Lead), but there’s also a bit of, of all things, Batman in her. We wanted a character that was more a force of nature than an actual person — completely dedicated to her life’s work to the exclusion of everything else. We may also have borrowed a little from our actual selves here as well. Not for me to say.
That light-hearted music at the beginning may seem a bit incongruous, but we were pretty particular about it sounding like this. You can’t open a fast-paced story about newspaper reporters without jaunty strings.
Mary’s cold impassiveness about the corpse may seem a bit harsh, but that’s also keeping with the style of the time. The reporters in His Girl Friday were ruthless vultures who, for example, demanded that a hanging be rescheduled so they could file the story within their deadlines.
All of the cops in Mary’s (as-yet unnamed) city are Irish, mostly because the cops in 95% of the old movies we watched for research were Irish. Anyway, it’s not any kind of social commentary or anything. It’s just a fun silly voice to have people do.
Jason Wallace has been an integral part of Sarcastic Voyage’s sketches, serials and radio plays for as long as we've been doing this sort of thing. This was his first project for us, playing Sgt. Flannahan. It’s pretty easy to see why we decided to continue working with him.
We spent a lot of time poring over lists of 30s slang (this story takes place in 1935). We may have laid it on a little thick, but it really is a lot of fun to throw words like “floozy” and “gams” around. Try it yourself! Ideally in the company of people who won’t find it offensive!
We didn’t want to do a ton of material on Mary being a woman in a man’s world, but we figured it should be addressed at least once. Flannahan calling her “girl reporter” took care of that nicely, and gave her an axe to grind that she would carry with her through the remainder of this story.
It’s exceedingly difficult for me to type these notes as I listen to this thing and not just shout about all the clever wordplay we wrote. I won’t be doing that. But you should know that I really want to.
This scene with Harold King, the owner of Mary’s paper, seems a bit out-of-place in this story. Initially the plan was to release Citizen Crotch (the story of King’s life) not long after Bury the Lead. That ended up not happening. But now that the saga, such as it is, of King has been completed, it probably works better now. I mean, he’s played by Dave Fields here and by Josef Ravenson in Citizen Crotch, but I suspect you can reconcile those facts without too much discomfort.
Additionally, this scene is meant to illustrate where Mary draws the line in her hunt for the truth. She’s perfectly capable of keeping secrets, as long as those secrets don’t negatively impact The People. Of course, she probably doesn’t realize what King’s costumed alter-ego actually gets up to, or she might sing a different tune…
In retrospect, we probably laid it on a little thick with the “Mary teases Carl for being gay” stuff. We thought we were being… progressive? Inclusive? Something like that. It’s important to me that these remasters don’t tamper with the original scripts, but I was sorely tempted to with these bits. If/when Carl returns in future installments, we'll be more careful.
That’s me as the Cary Grant-inspired Carl, by the way. Not my best performance, vocally, but again: it’s a lot easier to maintain that crazy rhythm when you helped lay it down yourself. Hopefully we both talk fast enough to distract you from the fact that I’m not as good as someone else might be.
Herbert (played here by the always-excellent Brian Lynch) was meant to be the antithesis of those gruff newspaper editor characters that exist in every story about journalists. We tried to make him as completely relaxed and easy-going as possible, and we even hung a lantern on the fact that he’s the anti-Perry White by insisting that his reporters call him “chief.” I never said we were subtle.
On those aforementioned lists of 30s slang, we found about a dozen different words for “woman.” (Dame, broad, et. al) Among these was “twist,” which we fairly arbitrarily decided was considered more offensive than the others. This turned into a bit of a runner, as it appeared a few more times in The Radio Adventures of Matt and AAlgar and occasionally throughout Sarcastic Voyage Theatre.
That’s Mark “Bob” Boszko as Walter the hobo. Bob had done a fair amount of silly voices for Sarcastic Voyage sketches prior to this, but this was the first relatively serious role we gave him. And he completely nailed it. There’s a lot going on in this performance — so much so that I felt compelled to leave his original 2013 recording completely untouched. Great work, Bob.
I definitely subscribe to the John Hodgman school, which defines hobos as a specific type of rail-riding free-spirits and not as a catch-all synonym for “homeless person.”
Seriously, listen to that line: “the sheba stormed in all togged to the bricks.” How do people not just talk like it’s 1935 all the time?
Sabrina Snyder and Dave Fields had both been regular SV performers by this point as well, and they both completely rose to the occasion with their roles here as, respectively, Ethel and Johnny Scuderi.
The mobster Johnny Scuderi shares a surname with an old family friend who was a big influence on me at a certain age. The name has popped up in at least one other project of mine, because I really did like that guy.
Prominent Crotch Boy Junior was, at this point, a throwaway sketch on SV. It would eventually tie pretty heavily into the backstory of the aforementioned Harold King in Citizen Crotch.
Duncan Boszko was the last of our regular SV cast members to make the transition to More Serious Acting and, like the others, he was fantastic. He’s doing a bit of a riff on Bruce Campbell from The Hudsucker Proxy here as Fitz.
Fitz and Smitty are both nicknames that Amanda desperately wishes people would call her. Few, if any, do.
The streets in Mary’s city being mis-named “31th” and “28st” is a fairly subtle runner that continues into the sequel, Kill the Front Page. It doesn’t particularly mean anything, but it amuses me to throw in silly details like that to break up the more serious tone.
Amanda came up with the idea to refer to Trumble as a vast assortment of animal nicknames. This is partially a hint and partially a red herring.
This brief scene with Carl ended with Mary hailing a taxi, and Amanda worked on that simple, two-syllable line (“TAXI!”) for a really long time before we felt like she’d gotten it completely right. Then I realized in editing that Carl offered to walk to the hotel with her, so I cut the line. Whoops!
Maggie Rowbotham, my longtime co-host, co-writer and all-around cohort, hasn’t been involved with these radio play productions too much. Given that he never signed on to write sketches, much less full-length audio comedy/dramas, I can’t say that I blame him. That said, he did a great job here as the requisite “wormy little bureaucrat overwhelmed by more forceful characters” who appears in every screwball comedy.
I love Mary’s terrible metaphors. That’s almost entirely Amanda’s creation, so I can say that without sounding too self-satisfied.
Gretchen was originally played by Amanda, but obviously we had to recast when she took over as Mary. Enter Kara O’Connor, a more recent addition to our ensemble and one of the best performers we have regular access to. We did a couple of these scenes in front of a live audience as a sort of “sampler pack” of our material and we were completely blown away. Honestly, it was that performance that moved this remastered version off my “get to this some day” list.
I’ve (rightfully) sung the praises of every one of our performers throughout these notes, but the show-stealer was, and remains, Jason Ellis as Boss Trumble. I’ve known Jason since high school, and he was one of those people who made Theater and other creative pursuits look fun and interesting enough to try. I can sincerely say that I would not be doing the things I do today without Jason’s influence. Beyond that, I absolutely adore what he brings to Boss Trumble, a role that I thought I’d have to enhance considerably with sound effects and vocal treatment. Once he makes his transformation, that’s all Jason — no enhancements necessary. So good.
I absolutely love that we told a straight noir/reporter story up until the reveal that supernatural stuff exists in this world. It’s a twist (dame, sorry) that we could only pull off once, but I think it really works here.
Also, the idea of a werewhale feels like a gag, but it wasn’t meant to be. It’s no dumber to me than any other kind of were-whatever.
“My penis!” was a total on-the-spot improv by Jason. We all, naturally, completely lost our shit when he said it. Thankfully I was able to cut around that and leave the line in.
Jason also really sells the total lasciviousness of Trumble’s debauchery with lines like “whales don’t mate for life.” He’s so deliciously gross.
Mary’s awkward “to pick his teeth clean” line was made a hundred times funnier by Kara’s adlibbed “...oh.”
Mary’s attitude at the end of the Trumble scene - “if the voters of this city are comfortable with their mayor being a whale some of the time, that’s not for me to say” says everything you need to know about her. She reports the facts, and she doesn’t make judgments. When we hit on that idea, we knew we were on to something.
That’s Jakita Fleck, daughter of our good-great friends Andy and Marissa Fleck, as the newsie at the end. I always prefer casting actual children in child roles whenever possible.
“Orca Man” was a fragment of an idea that Maggie and I tossed around like eight years before this. I promised her it would find a home someday. And it did!
Mary’s adventures continue in 2014’s Kill the Front Page. as well as 2015’s Citizen Crotch and at least one full-length story in 2018's Sarcastic Voyage Theatre. We also caught up with a much older Mary in seasons 1 and 2 of Contentment Corner (2016-2017).
Duncan Boszko - Fitz
Mark Boszko - Walter the hobo
Jason Ellis - Boss Trumble
Dave Fields - Johnny Scuderi, Harold King
Jakita Fleck - Newsie
Nathan LaJeunesse - Officer Hansen
Brian Lynch - Herbert
Kara O'Connor - Gretchen
Maggie Rowbotham - Albert Barnes
Sabrina Snyder - Ethel
Jason Wallace - Sgt. Flannahan
Ron “AAlgar” Watt - Carl
Written & directed by Amanda Smith and Ron “AAlgar” Watt
© 2013, 2017 AAlgar Productions