Philip Jaeger is no stranger to live theater, having acted in and directed shows for several years with area theater groups.
His latest production — the two one-act thrillers “The Hitch-Hiker” and “Sorry, Wrong Number,” opening Friday night at the Rhode Center for the Arts — have the added twist of being radio dramas.
But that’s an area where he’s also a veteran.
“I have experience doing previous radio shows,” Jaeger said, “including a couple at the Rhode, including ‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’ and ‘War of the Worlds.’
“These two radio plays, both written by Lucille Fletcher, are two of the most famous suspense thrillers from the 1940s.”
Fletcher wrote “The Hitch-Hiker” in 1941 for Orson Welles’ radio show; it was later adapted for “The Twilight Zone” TV series. Fletcher’s “Sorry, Wrong Number,” one of the most celebrated plays in the history of American radio, debuted in 1943, starring Agnes Moorehead, and was adapted by Fletcher for the 1948 film starring Barbara Stanwyck.
“The movie version of ‘Sorry, Wrong Number’ expands the story quite a bit,” Jaeger said. “Our version is more focused on the plight of a woman trapped in her room alone, overhearing two men plotting the murder of a woman.”
Two actresses are alternating playing the lead role in “Sorry, Wrong Number,” and audiences will see a different interpretation of the role, depending on which performance it is.
“One of them does a tribute to Agnes Moorehead, who performed it at various times in radio broadcasts,” Jaeger said, “and the other leans more toward Babara Stanwyck — you’ll see one or the other of these classic performances.”
The cast features nine actors, with many playing multiple roles. Jaeger plays the announcer for both dramas.
Jaeger enjoys re-creating these classic radio dramas.
“I love it because it’s a nod to classic radio,” he said. “I’m thrilled with the idea that we’re re-creating something that was for a good portion of the last century the premier entertainment medium for most of the people in the U.S. People today don’t remember radio as an important part of entertainment, but in the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s, people were glued to their radios until TV came in and took over.
“I like the idea of giving people that experience again. It’s unique and relies on voices, sound effects and music. We’re performing it as it would have been done in a studio — with microphones, scripts and live sound effects.”