Tuesday, September 17, 2013


As a concept, THE WICKED AND THE DEAD is one of the more unappealing DARK SHADOWS stories from Big Finish. The Rev. Gregory Trask has been walled-up an isolated room of Collinwood, left to die by Judith Collins as punishment for his many infidelities. It's a story first told on the original series more than 40 years ago, which makes the outcome of this episode inevitable.

Even though it's been sitting on my shelf for a few years, I've never found the time to listen to it. What purpose did it serve? If the story played out in a way different from how it was presented on the television show, wouldn't that be cheating?

A few weeks back I found myself taking a long drive to Atlanta, Ga., and decided to catch up on some of the DARK SHADOWS audio dramas I'd missed. At the top of the drive's playlist was THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF TRASK, an episode that re-introduces a character important to this year's Big Finish storyline.

Twenty minutes into the trip, though, I realized I'd been listening to THE WICKED AND THE DEAD by mistake.

It was the happiest of accidents. No, THE WICKED AND THE DEAD doesn't offer many opportunities for writer ERIC WALLACE to alter Trask's fate. It might not fit well with established events from 1897, but Wallace does a great job of giving actors JERRY LACY and JOHN KARLEN material they can really sink their teeth into. Both men have always had phenomenal range, and THE WICKED AND THE DEAD lets them both go a little bit crazy with their deliveries. The performances here are amazing, and Wallace draws out the tension between the two actors throughout it's running time.

Lacy is great, but he's one of those actors who is so consistently good that it's easy to take him for granted (see also TOM HANKS.) Here, he plays Bud Abbott to Karlen's sinister Lou Costello, and carries the dramatic weight of the story: Trask is slowly deconstructed as a character as he's tormented by a phantom that may or may not be the ghost of Carl Collins.

It might be Lacy's story, but it's Karlen's show. His performance here has the kind of energy I hadn't seen from the actor since ... well, since his days on DARK SHADOWS. He gets to play both fool and monster here, and the transitions are perfect. Karlen has been stuck playing domesticated characters for so long that it was refreshing to see him go a little Jack Nicholson.

While the story never gives its players the chance to leave Trask's improvised prison cell, their back and forth lets them explore the extensive history of the Trask family. Wallace plays around with notions of memory in this episode, creating the illusion that the story moves around more than it really does. THE WICKED AND THE DEAD travels from Collinsport, Maine, to Kansas and Massachusetts, as we learn about Trask's questionable upbringing.

And here's where my early concerns about the story began to fall apart. Is THE WICKED AND THE DEAD a little stagebound? Sure. Physically, it really doesn't go anywhere. It's just two men sitting in a darkened room in Collinwood, talking about past experiences.

Only it's not that, either, is it? It's just two actors reading lines in a California recording studio. The performances and writing in this episode are so evocative that you probably won't realize that it's made up of nothing more substantial than words spoken into a microphone. While the idea for the story is less than compelling, the execution more than justifies its existence. I say check it out.


Anonymous said...

One of my absolute favorite Big Finish releases. Outstanding writing and performances.

stanleytweedle said...

After reading this review I feel like I better check out this story. Both Karlen and Lacy were two of my absolute favourite actors in the show and the Trasks are fascinating.

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