"Rain" – Episode 1

The episode went live on Facebook today (and if you’re reading this through there, you probably don’t want to scroll past the point where I say “spoilerz”), so I figure now is as good a time as any to discuss the process and my thoughts on this episode.

You’ll notice that there are a couple of new pages which list some of my favorite songs and favorite films. The songs list is far more comprehensive, but that’s because I put it together at 5 in the morning and my brain wasn’t working.

Again, you can download the episode on iTunes by searching for “Red L Radio Plays.” The episode is also online, along with a comprehensive cast and crew list, here. I would say it’s rated PG-15 for language and some adult content. Wire nerds, see if you can pick up “Obnoxious Wire reference #1″ as you listen…the answer is revealed below.

This blog post, however, is rated R because I swear. A lot.

That being said, spoilers and stuff for episode 1 of New York Noir just as soon as I decide what to do with this box…
When Matthew Hadley and Rachel Walker asked me if I had any ideas for a radio series, they mentioned that they were only looking for episodes that ran between 10-15 minutes a piece. Cook’s original story is pretty sprawling for eleven pages, with so many characters that even the most careful listener wouldn’t be able to keep track of them all.

My intent with “Rain” was to compress as much of that sprawl without losing any of it; the story is about the ways New Yorkers, especially New Yorkers surrounded by crime, connect to each other by virtue of being over eight million people crammed into a small area. It’s supposed to be a look into the “other New York” described in the narration; a New York described in my last post by smarter dudes like Sante and Block. And, right away, it’s supposed to set the tone for the series. This is the New York in which these stories will be taking place.

A quick glance at Cook’s short story reveals two primary storylines that run through the piece; the murder of Rebecca Gorsh and what effect it may have on her aging criminal father, and the misadventures of two thugs and a baby. These two storylines, of course, connect on an uptown bus midway through the episode.

The latter proved a pretty simple translation, and the end result is one of my favorite parts of the episode. (My favorite line in the episode has to be “Don’t say cops — we ain’t showin’ up at no cop house with no stolen car and a baby we don’t know whose it is;” I adore the way it’s delivered.) This being radio, though, the challenges came in trying to accurately convey that the baby in the box a) is the daughter of the man Ernie Gorsh meets on the bus, and b) that the baby drowns at the end when a gutter collapses. In the story, much of this is internalized, but I only had to make a few small changes to the narrative (specifically stating the name on the box, which comes back later) for it to work.

If you’ve listened to the episode, what did you think about the use of the sound effect at the very end (the baby crying)? In discussions with REP, we debated whether or not it was clear enough from Mandy and Diedre’s dialogue that Luis and Angelo had left the same baby outside the church without having to use the effect. I thought we didn’t need the effect; but hearing it, it’s not as obvious as I thought.

The Mandy/Diedre storyline is one that appears in Cook’s original story but is given a more prominent role here. REP asked for meatier parts for women, for starters. In Cook’s story, the character who passes by the baby in the box was from a storyline that I excised early on. I thought it lent the story a nice duality to have Diedre basically send her friend off to her death, then be horrified by someone who leaves a baby to drown in the rain. (Hence the “Jesus, Jesus Christ.” I am a circular-loving motherfucker.)

Many of the characters in Cook’s story are solitary individuals, and like I mentioned above, a large part of takes place in their skulls. The challenge was to make the internal-external without being lame. This came into play a lot during Ernie Gorsh’s storyline, particularly once he meets Jamie on the bus. Ernie’s an old guy, so it makes sense that he’d be talking to himself (not that all old people talk to themselves, but you get my idea), and I also liked the tragedy in him passing on advice to Jamie about his daughter, who is dead by the end of the episode.

Ernie’s daughter Rebecca, however, had some of the biggest changes made. The basic framework is there, although there was a much longer scene with Herman Devane (the sex offender who tries to grope Rebecca’s girlfriend and is later considered a suspect by Detectives Boyle and Romano) in an earlier draft. That scene was excised because it was too internal, and one of the joys of writing this was putting the pieces together in a way that (I hope) was not obvious. So the careful listener will pick up that the “fat fuck” Suzie talks about is Herman and so forth and so on.

But Suzie, for the most part, was an original creation. She appears in Cook’s story, but only briefly, and there’s no hint at all that she’s Rebecca’s girlfriend. In fact, the two stories — Devane groping Suzie and Rebecca being murdered — take place at different points in New York City at about the same time in the story. For the sake of time and drama, I combined them and compressed them, adding the scene as it appears in the episode. However, once Rebecca and Suzie part ways, the scene appears pretty much as it does in Cook’s story — the umbrella, the dialogue with the cutter, and so forth and so on.

Another storyline that I tried to adapt and wound up cutting was the bit you’ll hear at the start of our introduction to Boyle and Romano. Their conversation about a guy who tries to have his mother killed so he can save his bowling alley? That scene originally took place on the Staten Island Ferry, with the guy interviewing the Jamaican who knows how to work a wire. Again, cut for time/fluidity.

Detectives Boyle and Romano were two other characters who became more prevalent in adapating the story. The conversation about Herman Devane in the bar involved two different cops higher up the food chain, with Boyle and Romano’s relating primarily to the adventures of Staten Island Guy. So, again, like with Suzie and Rebecca, the characters were combined for the sake of confusion.

Which brings me to Boyle and Romano. Romano was originally a man in Cook’s story but was changed to give a greater variety of gender roles in the story. (One of the biggest problems in noir is finding roles for women that aren’t either victims or evil.) I enjoyed writing their scenes together — and if you guessed that Romano’s sarcastic referral of Boyle as “real police” (although yes, I know it’s “real po-lice”) was Obnoxious Wire Reference #1, Bubbles has a white tee for you — but I have to be completely honest, this is one of those times when the actors elevate the material.

The two actors playing Boyle and Romano are Daniel Halden and Erin Keskeny, respectively, and I am beyond thrilled with what they do here. I had sort of a street kid/educated cop pairing in my head when I wrote them, and that’s exactly what they did — but different. Here, Boyle’s more of a Beantown Jimmy McNulty, where Romano definitely has more of a laid-back, West Coast feel. The great thing about hearing these characters realized is that now I can start to fill in their backstory and work on their relationship. To digress, when I saw Stephen Sondheim speak a few years back, he said that he wished he didn’t have to write his music and lyrics until all the parts were cast. The older I get (by not that much), the more I realize this is true for me as well. By special request, Boyle & Romano will be appearing in later episodes of the series and I’m excited to return to these characters.

Most of the other stuff was kept intact from Cook’s story. There were a couple of plotlines that I do wish I’d kept or found a way to make work, and there was one brief scene that was deeply creepy but morally questionable.

That brings us to the last piece of the puzzle: the narration. You can’t do a radio anthology series without a host and narration, and this was what I struggled with the most. In fact, it was the last thing I wrote for this episode, almost a month after I wrote the original script. I watched a metric ton of Twilight Zone as a kid, and obviously, Rod Serling is the 500 pound gorilla of cool anthology narration.

Two things eventually shook enough shit loose: First, the creation of the actual narrator “character,” the Lady in Red. It’s a noir series after all, and it wouldn’t be noir without at least one femme fatale. (Gee, could I use italics more?) Once I heard her doing the narration (although, strangely enough, I came up with the character first, so she was just talking at that point) in a low, cigarettes-and-whiskey voice, it helped a lot. Those of you who read the last post will probably deduce that her name, the Lady in Red, is not from the Stevie Wonder Academy Award-winner, but the name for the woman who betrayed John Dillinger outside the Biograph in 1934. (It may have also had something to do with the fact that I had just watched Lewis Teague’s The Lady in Red while coming up with this.)

I’m not really sure how I hit upon using the phrase “…dark heart of New York/…city’s dark heart,” but when I combined it with the voice, it clicked and I was able to write both the opening and the episodic narration fairly quickly. The opening narration starts with a recitation of some of NYC’s famous landmarks, and there’s a contrast there between good associations and negative associations. (Rikers/Shea, 42nd/11oth. The 110th is a reference to the dark song “Across 110th Street,” not Harlem itself.) I like the version you heard, and it’s delivered pretty perfectly by Laura Ramadei, but it’s something that I’ll continue to tweak with over the course of the season.

As for “Rain” itself, the narration was pretty simple. One of the things that I loved about Cook’s story was his varied and lovely descriptions of the rain as it falls in New York, and 90 percent of the narration that appears in this episode is taken directly from Cook’s story. Cook’s story is definitely worth checking out and you can find it in the Manhattan Noir collection from Akshaic Books. Only ten bucks!

I don’t have any specific comments other than the ones I’ve mentioned about the episode per se, but I was surprised how faithful this was to the script I wrote. I’m not one to point out mistakes, but there’s one typo that slipped past me that actually made it into the episode itself. REP did a fantastic job and I am proud to have written it.

As Alan Sepinwall says, what did everybody else think?

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