Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Want to Hear a Good Old-Fashioned Ghost Story?

By Lars Trodson

“The Palmstone”, our original radio play that will make its Internet debut on this space next week, has an interesting pedigree. It started out as an experiment to honor my friend Norman Corwin, whom I have known and kept up a correspondence with for the past several years. Norman is one of the great, if not the greatest, practitioner of the radio play form. Norman is still alive, although not active, at the age of 97.

“The Palmstone” was also a way to try to tell a story in ways that were purely sonic -- voices and sounds and silences. And of course the words.

One of the reasons, I think, why radio plays have not survived is they require an intense amount of concentration. If you’re listening to an intricate story on the radio, you can’t be reading the paper, or doing the dishes, or folding the laundry. If you are to connect to details of the story -- you actually have to listen. It’s not a very accommodating artform.

But the Internet has given radio plays new life, almost wholly because people who troll the web are looking for things that interest them. We certainly hope “The Palmstone” will be one of those things.

I had been looking for a ghost story to write, in part because I was interested, at the time this project came about, in writing strictly genre pieces. I had written an art heist play -- produced at a local theater -- and written and produced a romantic comedy called “Family Trees”, which was an independent movie we made in 1997. And so I thought one of the things I should try was a ghost story. And a radio play seemed the best way to exercise that desire.

But I couldn’t come up with a good story. Every idea I had I Googled, and discovered I had unintentionally cadged someone else’s story. Frustrated, I started to read old, forgotten ghost story texts in search of inspiration. Anything that would spark a good idea that I could turn into my own.

It was during that time I first read “The Monkey’s Paw.” I was completely enamored of the story, and it is no secret that “The Palmstone” is an adaptation – or, in the parlance of today -- a reimagining of that original story.

I wrote several scripts simply retelling the details of “The Monkey’s Paw” – none of which were satisfactory. Simply put, “The Monkey’s Paw” tells the story of a couple who has in their possession a severed monkey’s paw, a talisman, that allows them three wishes. They use those three wishes, and the results are much more complicated, and horrific, then they could have ever imagined.

The central image of "The Monkey’s Paw" seemed to me ridiculous, and the story itself was so brief there were few details made available about the couple who made use of the wishes. Every script I wrote tried to embellish the lives of the couple in the story, as I imagined them to be in the context of the original story, but nothing was working.

I decided to begin the search for something to replace the monkey’s paw as the central image, and to adapt the story accordingly.

One day I was playing with a little boy I once knew, and we had some Play-Dough, and I pressed a ball of Play-Dough between my two palms and came up with a flat disc. On each side was the distinct imprint of my palms, which of course any palm reader will tell you forecasts the story of your life.

I looked at the disc, and thought this would make the perfect talisman for the play, and quickly came up with the idea of calling the thing “The Palmstone.” Once that happened, the details of the radio play came together pretty quickly.

By removing the monkey’s paw, I was able to expand the arc of the story, and because the idea of the palmstone was so expansive, as a way to foretell someone’s life, it also allowed me to explore the inner workings of the family involved in this particular drama. Since I was living in the Seacoast of New Hampshire at the time, it was easy to switch the story to that waterfront milieu.

So that’s a little background.

We’ll play this story out over four nights, just like they do on the BBC with their radio plays, starting July 31. The flaws and delights of this show are yours to discern, and of course we welcome and appreciate any comments you may have.

The superlative production values are the result of the production engineer Tom Daly, at Crooked Cove Records in Kittery, Maine, and the voice characterizations have been provided not just by the local actors I have known, but by some of the most talented people you will be introduced to anywhere.

Please tune in on July 31 for the opening act of “The Palmstone.” We hope that you’ll hear some good old-fashioned ghost-storytelling.