SALT LAKE CITY — Before the Internet and MP3 players, there were radios, and they were a primary source of news and entertainment.
“Radio became the next way to link the country, and it went way beyond newspapers because everyone could learn the news at the same time,” says John Caywood. “And radio added the element of entertainment. While families used to gather around the hearth, they began to gather around the radio.”
At the Grand Theatre, Caywood directs “The Voice of the Prairie,” a memory play set in 1925 when the exciting new form of mass communication was sweeping the country.
“Radio is the underlying theme of the play — the hook that the play is hung on,” he explains.
The play is also the story of Davey Quinn, who has a special ability to tell stories on the radio. He rises to fame telling stories of the characters in his life, including a blind girl named Frankie.
“It’s a very sweet play without being too sentimental,” Caywood says. “The play makes you feel ‘Ah.’ And there aren’t too many things that do that for me anymore like they once did. Maybe that’s why it feels very special to me.”
At its advent, radio was very much a storytelling medium. Families and individuals sat entranced by the magic of wooden boxes that carried distant voices into parlors across the country.
“Storytelling in America, perhaps in the world, is a vanishing art,” according to the playwright, John Olive. “Each of us has a story, and we have lost the ability to listen and learn from each other’s stories. We are now caught in a web of the visual image and that has eclipsed the value of listening. ‘The Voice of the Prairie’ reminds us of the massive trade off that took place when we surrendered our oral tradition.”
“The two main characters in the play bonded as children but were separated,” Caywood says. “Because there really wasn’t a good way to locate somebody at that time, they had been pining for each other, for 30 years — pining for that one good friend who understood them better than anyone else. It’s a sweet story because they reunite and re-establish their great relationship.”
“The Voice of the Prairie” is a tale of intersecting lives, Caywood explains. The main character of storyteller Quinn meets a radio entrepreneur, who is looking for a dynamic form of radio entertainment.
“The play is also about a great relationship between the men,” he says. “What starts as a business relationship becomes a significant best-friend scenario, where one looks out for another.”
If you go
What: “The Voice of the Prairie”
Where: The Grand Theatre
When: through Feb. 2 at 7:30 p.m., with Saturday matinees at 2 p.m.
How much: $24-$9
Tickets: 801-957-3322 or the-grand.org