Cape Noir Radio Theater Reimagines 'To Build A Fire'

By: Jennifer Sexton-Riley

Topics: Arts

Jim Frangione narrates J Hagenbuckle’s new adaptation of Jack London's story "To Build A Fire."  COURTESY PHOTO

Cape Noir Radio Theater is back with a brand new interpretation of the classic Yukon adventure tale which has caused many readers to shiver in their boots, Jack London's masterful “To Build a Fire.”

In London's 1908 story, an unnamed newcomer to the unforgiving cold and treacherous terrain of the Yukon Territory ignores the advice and warnings of those experienced with the extreme cold and embarks on a solo hike to meet up with friends. Accompanied by a dog, the only witness to his experiences, our narrator finds out exactly why the warnings were given. Life and death hang in the balance in his simple quest to build a fire and survive every challenge the sub-zero wilderness has to offer.

Cape Noir Radio Theater creator J Hagenbuckle said the story has stayed with him since he first read it many years ago, and he felt it would make a compelling radio play. It's the way he chose to present the material that makes the Cape Noir adaptation so original and unlike any version of the story you've encountered before.

“As I'm editing it for time, I realize how much more direct an experience it would be to change the point of view to first person,” Hagenbuckle explained. “The suspenseful quality of it further suggested an even more trancelike feel could be achieved by creating a non-linear experience for the listener.”

Hagenbuckle created this non-linear experience by splitting the story into 11 chapters and reversing them. As the play moves forward in time, the story steps back one chapter before another. He explained the concept by drawing a comparison with a 2016 science fiction film which introduces life forms with a fascinating relationship with – and experience of – time itself.
“In the film 'Arrival,' the aliens experience existence in a circle rather than a line, where one can remember the future,” Hagenbuckle explained. “In this Cape Noir play, the beginning is the end and the end is the beginning. A circle.”

The result is a new entrance into a familiar story and a completely unique experience. Imagine opening a side door to a tale well-known and loved, and coming into it at an unexpected point, with an entirely new view of the scenery you thought you knew so well. It turns out there's a lot more to experience in that story than you may have thought, if you look at it from another angle, and if you listen from a different point of view.

A friend who had expressed an interest in working with Hagenbuckle on a Cape Noir Radio Theater production, Cape Cod native Jim Frangione, was a natural choice as narrator of the blood-chilling adventure. Frangione is an actor, director, writer and artistic director at Great Barrington Public Theater. He also happens to be an award-winning audiobook narrator with over 300 titles to his credit, so his storytelling ability has to be heard to be believed.

“I’m a huge fan of what J is doing with Cape Noir Radio,” Frangione said. “I love the form, and so I asked him if there was anything he’d like to collaborate with me on. We live in different parts of the state – me in the Berkshires, J on Cape Cod – but these days that’s not an issue. He suggested this wonderful story and here we are.”

As a voice actor and audiobook narrator, Frangione frequently works with an engineer to record in his own audio studio at home. Under Hagenbuckle's direction, they were able to record the piece to his specifications, then upload the files electronically so Hagenbuckle could then master and edit it all together, adding special effects, pauses, music and everything else that brings the story to life.

Born and raised on the Cape, Frangione said any time he gets a chance to experience the Cape, even remotely via the radio, he's happy to do it.

“So even though I’m on the other side of the state,” Frangione said, “when I’m recording for J and on WOMR I can still smell the salt air.”

Cape Noir Radio Theater's original adaptation of “To Build a Fire,” adapted and directed by J Hagenbuckle, narrated by Jim Frangione, produced in partnership with Cape Cod Theatre Company/HJT, is online on the WOMR podcast page (womr.org/podcast_category/cape-noir-radio-theater/) or at WOMR 92.1 FM and WFMR 91.3 FM, on Thursday, March 25 at 8:30 p.m.