Neil Gaiman,
Two Plays for Voices:
Snow Glass Apples,
Murder Mysteries

(Harper Audio, 2002)

Two of Neil Gaiman's short stories challenge the aural senses in Two Plays for Voices, a two-disc set collecting Snow Glass Apples and Murder Mysteries as originally recorded by Seeing Ear Theatre, directed and produced by Brian Smith for the SciFi Channel.

The first tale adds a vampiric twist to the hackneyed story of Snow White. Told from the perspective of the stepmother (voiced by Bebe Neuwirth), the fable is certainly not Disneyfied when Gaiman is through with it! (Who would expect references to oral sex, among other things, in such a "wholesome" fairy tale?)

The story, already gripping enough on the printed page, finds new depth in this vocal rendition. Neuwirth, her voice already cold and dead, recounts the almost familiar story with chilling matter-of-factness. She's telling the tale because she needs it to be told; no one but her knows events as she witnessed them, and she expects no one to recall her version when everything's said and done. She is unemotional, a chronicler without an audience.

It begins with a romance, one that might have led to a happy-ever-after conclusion by any other writer. She wins the heart of a king and becomes a queen, but her new stepdaughter, raven-haired and pale of skin, is an enigma with a taste for apples and blood. Over time, the king diminishes and eventually dies; realizing the cause, the queen takes steps -- but the girl's apparent death isn't a lasting solution.

Almost recognizable are the stunted forest dwellers who find and --unwillingly -- save the girl, as well as the charming but perverse prince who comes seeking gratification. Particularly effective here is the colorful imagery Gaiman employs: the apples, the blood and the falling snow. Gaiman's words are rich, and Neuwirth's narration is full of subtle emotion.

The second disc is a play within a play. The first involves a British writer, stranded and out of sorts in Los Angeles. After a half-hearted encounter with an old one-night fling, he spots a cigarette to a man on the street -- and earns a story about angels. Brian Dennehy is perfect as the homeless wanderer, who also is the angel Raguel. His voice is crusty and worn at first, but once his story moves to the Silver City, it strengthens and clears.

The angel gets a name and function when the unspeakable happens -- a murder in Paradise. God requires Vengeance, but it'll take a holy detective to discover the culprit. The dead angel was one of God's planners, the one who devised love and was working on the concept of death when he, well, died.

Although Lucifer (voiced by Thom Christopher) is one of the primary characters, don't make the mistake of assuming Gaiman would choose so obvious a villain. Remember, this is before the Fall.

Besides the potboiler itself, the story also unveils the creation of the universe at its planning stage. The workroom is a fascinating place, well conceived and presented. Witness the first lie, the first jealousy, the first tears and -- could it be? -- the first seeds of doubt. The lure of the Dark, which lies outside the Silver City and is filled with mysterious voices, is another interesting notion.

Gaiman tips the first domino in a very large and intricate pattern. And, once the story ends, it ends again -- with a very disturbing twist that is not fully explained and leaves readers guessing.

Both stories benefit from excellent sound production, from the background chatter to sound effects and incidental music. Additional dialogue also is good. But the power here is the words, spun by Gaiman into a pair of deeply thoughtful, edgy and ultimately disturbing fables that dissect the quality of justice and the nature of one's perspective. Combined with high-quality dramatizations and narration, these are stories you'll want to hear over and over again -- you'll find something marvelous and new each time you do.

- Rambles
written by Tom Knapp
published 1 November 2003

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