It started as a challenge. Minneapolis theatre company ArtReach commissioned John Olive to write a play about storytelling. It became THE VOICE OF THE PRAIRIE.
Bob Clark, who had an eclectic movie career directing films like “A Christmas Story,” as well as “Porky’s,” had optioned the rights for a film version of VOICE and was looking for an LA production to help make it happen. He took Allan and me to lunch and offered us a $25,000 contribution to the theatre, with him directing, to help defray the production costs. Although the play had had some 15 productions across the country and earned critical acclaim in the 1987 west coast premiere at the Old Globe, it hadn’t had a LA premiere so we said, ‘Hell yes!’ The donation allowed us to produce the show with unusual ease. It opened in 1989 at the Back Alley and was a huge hit.
Sylvie Drake in the LA Times said, “Some plays just get to you…This is a fairy tale about the early days of radio, about the power of language and about humankind’s infinite capacity to imagine.”
Usually done by three actors—and still widely available and produced in this version—we did it with seven actors, most of whom were powerhouse Back Alley regulars: Gretchen Corbett, Ronny Cox, Barry Gordon (who became the president of SAG-AFTRA) and John M. Jackson, with the great Dick O’Neill and two young actors: Bobby Zameroski and Rachel Babcock. The actors delivered—the Hollywood Reporter called the entire cast absolutely wonderful under Clark’s sensitive direction.
Although the Hollywood Reporter called “Playwright Olive’s words and images mesmerizing—he is a true yarn-spinner in the best tradition,” it never got made as a film. And tragically, Bob Clark and his 22-year-old younger son were killed in a head-on car crash by a drunk driver on Pacific Coast Highway in 2007.