Dodge Intrepid and the Pages of Time
Those classic words harken back to the Golden Age of Radio, a time before the advent of television when families would gather around their radio sets, tune in their imagination and listen to the latest adventures of the Green Hornet, Charlie Chan and the Lone Ranger. Although the medium is from a bygone era, it has seen a resurgence in recent years, especially with the arrival of the World Wide Web and the popularity of Podcasts.
A trio of Pittsburgh comedy actors, meanwhile, have taken the concept even further with Dodge Intrepid and the Pages of Time, a radio drama performed live onstage that follows the adventures of a 1940s time-travelling librarian from Aliquippa and his faithful intern Pluck Gumption.
Dodge Intrepid and the Pages of Time is the brainchild of James Catullo and Michael Rubino, who, along with Michael Hinzman, make up the core of the live performances. Catullo and Rubino were originally members of a Beaver County comedy troupe called the Cellar Dwellers, and when the owner of Café Kolache—a local coffee shop that they frequented—asked about the group staging a production there, Rubino came up with a different idea.
“Their performance space, usually reserved for acoustic musicians, was too small for our troupe to do improv or sketch comedy,” he explains. “But I started to think about other types of shows I could do there and hit on the radio-serial format.”
Instead of fleshing out the idea by himself, Michael Rubino enlisted the services of James Catullo to help with the project, “We spent weeks sitting in the shop, kicking around ideas and themes,” Rubino continues. “We talked about a librarian going on adventures, his kid sidekick, and all of that. I don’t remember who came up with it, but at one point one of us looked out the window and thought about car names. Dodge Intrepid sounded pretty heroic.”
Dodge Intrepid and the Pages of Time officially launched in August 2005 with an origin story that established the “world famous librarian adventurer” and his youthful sidekick, as well as the duo’s arch nemesis, Allister Farious. Both Dodge Intrepid and Allister Farious hail from Aliquippa, where Intrepid works at the local library and Farious is an “evil” steel industrialist. When Intrepid’s grandfather discovers a book called The Chronotope that allows its owner the ability to time travel, Allister Farious confronts Dodge Intrepid and the book is subsequently torn in half, resulting in each of them having the ability to move through time.
After five successful “seasons” at Café Kolache, Dodge Intrepid and the Pages of Time itself moved to the Cultural District of downtown Pittsburgh, first to the Cabaret at Theater Square and then to the Arcade Comedy Theater on Liberty Avenue.
“I love the ‘world’ that James and I have created,” Michael Rubino says of the show. “We’ve put a lot effort into crafting 1940s Aliquippa, and balancing Beaver County and Pittsburgh history with our own take on the towns situated along the Ohio River. The characters are all colorful and weird, the fraternal organizations are gangs ready to snap whenever there’s the slightest hint of anarchy, and everything has a larger-than-life feel to it—especially the library. Because James and I share the same vision for the world and the characters, it makes writing really fun and open.”
It is a sentiment that James Catullo shares with his Pages in Time colleague. “We both have wide ranging tastes and we’ve been able to incorporate most of it into scripts at one point or another,” he adds. “One thing I love about writing Dodge is that we’ve made it into a real vehicle to explore all of the genres that interest us. We’ve touched on fantasy, science fiction, 80s action movies, classic pulp, hardboiled fiction, horror, holiday specials, vaudeville, and more. Some of it is overt and some of it is subtler, but it’s a lot of fun to put our ideas together. We’ve created our own little creative playground where we can play with almost any idea that we want. We get to be funny. We get to pretend to be pulp heroes. What more could you want?”
With both James Catullo and Michael Rubino handling the vocal duties of main characters Dodge Intrepid and Pluck Gumption, a third actor was needed for both Allister Farious and additional supporting characters. To fill that role, Catullo and Rubino turned to another Pittsburgh-based actor, Michael Hinzman.
“On average I do about eight different characters in a show,” Hinzman explains. “The most satisfying thing for me is to play multiple people with very different voices and having people not be able to tell that they are all me, especially if those characters are on the same page or even talk to each other.”
While Hinzman can best be described as a local “man of a thousand voices,” he readily admits that more than mere vocal abilities are necessary for a performance of Dodge Intrepid and the Pages of Time. “Doing anything audio still requires acting,” he says. “If you ever watch actors doing voiceovers in a booth, they still act to get the voice right. So being on stage reading, there still must be some physical acting to make the voice right. Plus, a well-timed knowing glance to the audience lets everyone in on the secret. It makes audience members feel more like an active participant and not just a passive listener.”
In addition to the actual episodes, each performance of Dodge Intrepid and the Pages of Time also features “commercial breaks” from fictional sponsor Uncle Wilbur—whose products include “free-range potted meat,” “hang-gliding tours of Pittsburgh” and “health cigarettes”—that are often just as entertaining as the narratives themselves.
“We really wanted to recreate the whole experience of listening to an old radio show,” James Catullo explains. “We’ve always been fascinated by old commercials for cigarettes and other things that made outlandish, baseless claims, so we created our own shady corporation, Uncle Wilbur, that would produce all the strange products we needed. Slowly Uncle Wilbur began to bleed into the scripts until it became central to some episodes and the company has its own mythology.”
All of these different ingredients—from the scripts to the performances to the faux commercials—have proven to be a winning recipe for Dodge Intrepid and the Pages of Time. “Often people don’t know how to take it in at first, but then get into it as their imagination kicks in,” Hinzman says of the audience reaction to their shows. “Our demographics for people that love it are very broad. Older people who loved radio shows as children love them. Literate college nerds love them. And for good reason, tweens love them.”
Michael Rubino agrees. “When we first started, I had no idea who would be interested in this sort of thing,” he confesses. “But the show found an audience—a nice mix of fans who obsess over the details, the chronology and the serialized nature of it, and fans who come at it purely for the humor. I love talking to folks after the performances. One time when we performed at the Arcade, a woman came up to us and told us about how the show is set during the year she was born. Right after that, a ten-year-old girl came up and was telling us how much she loves the adventures because they remind her of Tintin. I think that the show is really accessible and fun, but sometimes people can get scared off when they hear ‘old-time radio show.’”
Although that last statement may be true for the uninitiated, those who attend a live performance of Dodge Intrepid and the Pages of Time would certainly disagree. The same can also be said in regards to one of Rubino’s castmates.
“Dodge is such a fun pulpy ride that I would have a hard time not being drawn into that world even if I was not a performer,” Michael Hinzman readily admits. “I love the time period—the clothes, the music, everything. So why can’t I live it a little every other month as several people who travel through time?”
It’s not only a good question, but an excellent answer as well.