Interview: MALACHAI STOUT'S FAMILY REUNION RADIO SHOW At Perkins Center for the Arts

Interviews with Georgeann Catanella and Charlene Chamberlain

By: Jun. 24, 2024
Interview: MALACHAI STOUT'S FAMILY REUNION RADIO SHOW At Perkins Center for the Arts
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Interview: MALACHAI STOUT'S FAMILY REUNION RADIO SHOW At Perkins Center for the Arts

Two things that bring warm and fuzzy feelings about the simple pleasures in life and simpler times are parlor games and old-time radio.  Malachai Stout’s Family Reunion Radio Play, a radio show whodunnit, combines both, having been inspired by a parlor game, Malachai Stout’s Family Reunion (2010), which was designed by Ken Blumreich for eight people (or more) to play around a table and published by Playing With Murder Press.  Director Georgeann Catanella of Senior Stages took this popular murder mystery game and refashioned it as a 1950’s radio play recreation, complete with original 1950’s commercials between acts, and her talented cast of actors in the 55-plus age range, clad colorfully in period costumes, have brought this deliciously to life at Perkins Center for the Arts. 

The Golden Age of Radio or old-time radio (OTR) was one of the dominant forms of entertainment in the United States from its inception in the early 1920’s through the 1950’s.  Prior to the emergence of television as the foremost entertainment medium in the 1950’s, families gathered around the radio to listen to popular programs ranging from suspense and mystery to soap operas and radio comedy, all featuring famous talents from vaudeville and Hollywood like Bing Crosby, Fanny Brice, Jack Benny, Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Judy Garland and Orson WellesMercury Theater, in fact, presented Orson Welles’ adaptation of H.G. WellsThe War of the Worlds about a Martian attack in 1938 which was mistakenly believed to be a breaking news program and infamously caused a panic among some listeners.  Today old-time radio recreations or original contemporary programs continue to inspire the imagination of new generations, whether broadcast by radio (such as CBS Radio Mystery Theater which was broadcast on CBS Radio Network affiliates from 1974 to 1982 and again in the 2000s) or performed live (such as by the delightful WWOW Radio – Cranston & Spade Theater Company who recreate classic 1940’s radio dramas and once performed them behind a moveable bookcase in a mystery bookstore in Greenwich Village, inspiring my own foray into penning radio mysteries).  And now Georgeann Catanella is keeping the tradition going with her Senior Stages presentation of Malachai Stout’s Family Reunion, a radio whodunnit, aided by radio show host Charlene Chamberlain as Belva Davis.

Senior Stage is a project of Perkins Center for the Arts and the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, a partner agency of the National Endowment for the Arts.

Photo Credit: Mark D. Thellmann
Photo Credit:  Mark D. Thellmann

Q.  Tell me about your background in acting and directing.  What is your approach to actors?

GEORGEANN:  After my college graduation with a degree in theater, I began to perform throughout the Philadelphia and New Jersey areas: The Walnut Street Theatre, Philadelphia Theater Company, The Painted Bride, The Ritz Theater, Burlington County Footlighters and Society Hill Playhouse.  It was at that time, that I was lucky enough to be hired as an Assistant Casting Director in Philadelphia, casting such films as Rocky, Witness, Mannequins, etc.  The Casting Director then hired me as Director of a well-known film and commercial acting studio in New York, L.A. and Philadelphia, Weist-Barron.  We had such a diverse community of instructors and actors that I scheduled casting segments from New York City commercial and print agencies to come look at our talent.  Many of my students went on to have lucrative careers, one of them being Seth Green.  After leaving WB, I continued with my education, receiving my Masters Degree and raising my family. I continued to teach theater after school in the enrichment program and also adult acting classes at one of the local high schools.

Senior Stage is geared towards adults 55 and older and a lot of the participants in my classes have never done any kind of theater.  So, normally we start out very simple.  We do theater exercises and games.  We make it a safe and nurturing environment so that they feel comfortable taking risks.  I focus on fun, play and spontaneity.  We delve into characters through gameplay and improv and rapid-fire character games.  From this, the students build performance skills through short-form improv performances, storytelling skills, and character exploration.  Every term we do a detailed character analysis form that helps them develop their characters.

My Senior Stage is geared to bring together like-minded people who enjoy the many different facets of art.  They bring many valuable ideas, tools, stories and most importantly, we provide social interaction.  We’ve gone to see other shows in the area, dinner and lunch dates.  We’ve become a Family of Friends.

Q.  What drew you to Malachai Stout’s Family Reunion Radio Play?  How would you place it in terms of classical mystery plays?

GEORGEANN:  I remember years ago I did a radio show in Philadelphia of Canterbury Tales and it was so much fun.  It just hit me as I was sitting one day thinking about what I wanted to present next for the Senior Stage, and I thought, because some of the seniors did have some difficulty with memorization -- although I always said, put your script on a book or put your script on the table, make it part of your piece, put it somewhere where you can refer to it -- I thought that doing a radio show would be much more comfortable for them.  [They would have] their lines in front of them on a music stand.  When I mentioned it to my last class, they all loved the idea!  So before the closing of my last performance, I mentioned it to the audience and you could hear everyone going ooh and awwwww!

When I read Malachai Stout’s Family Reunion, it had some really fun characters that I thought my class would really enjoy.  It had a crazy army vet, a spoiled teenage brat, a millionaire and his wife, the matriarch Winifred Stout, etc., etc.  I could actually see each person in my class identifying with these characters from this play.  It originally was not in radio form.  I was lucky enough to have an assistant who helped me transfer everything into the format of a 1950s radio show.

I’ve never seen anything live other than some old-time TV shows and the one I did,  Canterbury Tales.  I do enjoy the fact that characters dress the part, there were always commercials cutting in between scenes and always a booth with someone making all the sounds, which is what we tried to reproduce in our show. It was just so much fun. And I think the audience being mostly seniors really did seem to connect to the old-time commercials, etc. 

CHARLENE:  I play the radio host.  It was fun to revisit some of those products that marked time such as Geritol, Ipana Toothpaste and Betty Crocker.

Q.  Charlene, you're something of a Renaissance Woman with a finger in so many pies.  Tell me about your creative background.  What were some of the highlights of your career and many undertakings in the Arts?

CHARLENE:  I come from a family of artists and musicians which inspired my creativity.  I was thrilled to receive a first round Grammy ballot nomination for a song I co-wrote.  Several of my songs are featured on the CD “We Are All In This Together,” which supports MusiCares, an organization for musicians in need.

I was a featured musical artist on the PBS Television Portraits Project.  Theatrically, I’ve performed with theater, ballet, and opera companies regionally, and have appeared in local and national television commercials.  Favorites include choreographing and performing in La Traviata and L’Elisir d’ Amore (The Elixir of Love) with Mozart Opera Festival.

Interview: MALACHAI STOUT'S FAMILY REUNION RADIO SHOW At Perkins Center for the Arts
Charlene Chamberlain who struck this pose without realizing her mother had posed similarly in the 1950's
Interview: MALACHAI STOUT'S FAMILY REUNION RADIO SHOW At Perkins Center for the Arts
Patricia McCarty, Charlene's mother, a fashion illustrator and model for Strawbridges in Philadelphia in the 1950's

Q.  Are you a fan of old-time radio?  Who are some of your favorite mystery authors?

CHARLENE:  If I’m on a long drive, I often listen to 40’s Junction on Sirius FM Radio.  I grew up reading Agatha Christie’s books, especially the Hercule Poirot series.  I enjoyed the TV series Midsomer Murders and Murders in Provence.  I am also a fan of Alfred Hitchcock’s films, Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes and Dashiell Hammet’s The Maltese Falcon.

Q.  What do you like about radio?

CHARLENE:   Listening to the radio, whether it’s to music or an audio book, allows you to set your imagination free to paint the scene in your mind, anyway you want to!

GEORGEANN:  I have decided that my next piece that will go up sometime in the beginning of December will be a holiday radio show. That’s how much the class and the audience loved the format. 

Malachai Stout’s Family Reunion, a radio show whodunnit, plays July 24 at 6:30 p.m. at Perkins Center for the Arts, 395 Kings Highway, Moorestown, New Jersey.  Free admission.  All ages welcome.



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