Welcome to the 16th episode of the Radio Hour series as part of Plan-B Theatre’s partnership with RadioWest, hosted by Doug Fabrizio on KUER-FM (90.1). Today, during the live RadioWest Friday broadcast, which begins at 11 a.m., The Case of the Missing Dog by Brandan Ngo will receive its premiere. For fans of The Naked Gun and other hilarious comedies featuring bumbling characters who become accidental heroes, this episode is a must. This will be the eighth episode in the series’ history to receive only one live performance in KUER-FM’s studios without an audience. This episode along with the 15 others in the series will be available for streaming, courtesy of RadioWest’s archives.
The show also will be rebroadcast today at 7 p.m. on KUER-FM RadioWest.
For a preview of The Case of the Missing Dog, see The Utah Review feature.
This is Brandan Ngo’s first Radio Hour episode. A 2017 graduate of The University of Utah with a degree in film and media arts, he has written and performed for the stage and camera. Ngo is back at the University, working toward a second bachelor’s degree, this time majoring in ecology and conservation. a member of the Theatre Artists of Color Writing Workshop at Plan-B Theatre, he wrote Where Are You From?, which was read by Plan-B at the Edward Lewis Theatre Festival in 2020. His second play, Stranded, was commissioned by Plan-B for the national Play at Home initiative during the pandemic and is included in the Performing Arts COVID-19 Response Collection at the U.S. Library of Congress. That play featured a stubborn pirate (Popi) while two friends with variations on the pirate’s name – Poppy and Poppie – join the story. The play received its live premiere at the 2021 Rose Exposed show in downtown Salt Lake City.
Ngo says in an interview with The Utah Review that he enjoys exploring the cornball possibilities of characters such as a hopelessly incompetent gumshoe. “Discovering the story, I was inspired by old-time radio serials and detective dramas and I loved the red herrings and craziness, which are part of The Naked Gun and the sketches of the Carol Burnett show,” he explains. “I wanted to make sure that as much fun as it was for me to write, it also should be fun to perform.”
He plays up the noir mood for the story’s setting, which is in the 1920s. As he explained in a Plan-B blog post, “I have always loved the hammy 1920s trans-Atlantic American dialogue. It sounds to me equal parts elegant and corny, characters waxing poetic about their inner thoughts and emotions, unable to keep it down because their love and hatred are bursting at the seams. So I indulged and I wrote and wrote and wrote, and this radio play is what became of it.”
Directed by Cheryl Cluff, the production features music by Dave Evanoff. Ngo adds, “I’m excited most for the music we’re going to use for the backdrop of this 1920s detective noir story. I love the smoky, hardboiled musical vibe that usually accompanies stories like this, and hearing such music in the context of this silly story makes me giddy.”
Three characters handle the story’s 12 characters: Detective Jack Mihaff, Katherine Trillby (Kitty), Mayor Butteface, Miss Butteface, Junior, Jeon Yeong, Trainee, Jimmy, Little Fan, Lenin, Thug and Officer. Actors include Jay Perry, who has performed in every Radio Hour episode; Isabella Reeder, who is appearing for the third time in the series, and Matthew Ivan Bennett, who has written 12 Radio Hour episodes. Perry is Detective Jack Mihaff. Reeder will take on the role of Kitty, whose formal name is Katherine Trilby. Bennett, will appear as Mayor Butteface. Of course, the actors will handle the minor character roles. Doug Fabrizio is RadioWest host. The creative team also includes Brian Albers, sound engineer; Joe Killian, sound design, and Aaron Asano Swenson, graphic design.
Ngo’s opening is classic deadpan, reminiscent of old noir detective serials, movies and television series. Little Beverly is “a smoky concrete jungle throbbing with the heartbeat of industry, rife with beauty, carnage, and intrigue.” The spokesperson sets the story: “the mayor of Little Beverly watches his city from atop a hill. He paces about a lavish study, unaware of the phone call made from inside his own home, to a certain weathered detective, only one night ago…”
Jack and Kitty on scene. The case about a missing dog seemed too simple but Jack’s string of bad luck and waiting longer than expected for something bigger compelled him to take the case. Had he lost his touch? Listen to Perry bring Ngo’s golden comedic lines to life: “I needed this job like I needed a handrail on a steep staircase after a night of frightening, experimental love-making.”
Jack gives Kitty, his assistant, some pointers: “Talking out loud helps me keep the story straight. But enough about that, here’s the mayor’s estate. … And in a city like Little Beverly, you never know what they could be hiding…”
The actor’s accents are on point. Jack is surprised to see Mayor Butteface (could not be a more perfect name for a greedy politician) answer his own door! – “almost like seeing your Sunday School teacher in pajamas at the corner store.” Bennett, a veteran Radio Hour writer, is reveling in his turn as an actor for the series. The Mayor’s wife (Miss Butteface) is wearing a “kee-pow” which she bought in Chinatown. She chides the Mayor for calling it a bathrobe. And, she calls out his toupee for already doing enough damage to the family’s image. Miss Butteface talks on and on about her Chinatown connections. She tells Kitty, “Oh, honey, I’d love to divulge all my business secrets to a perky youngster like you, but I’ve got sales to make and a pudgy mayor’s debt to pay off.”
Jack wants to talk to Junior, the Mayor’s son. While waiting for him to return home from his lessons, Jack muses about Kitty stirring up romantic feelings in him. Pay attention to how Ngo portrays Jack’s ironic cluelessness: “She’s a little ditzy to be wife material, but what’s the harm in a little workplace fling?”
Junior is 10 years old and Jack is perplexed about what sorts of lessons would keep a boy put until the evening. This is classic cluelessness.
Junior talks about taking in the dog a week or two ago. He thought it might be good company, but “t couldn’t even fix me a cup of tea the way I liked it!”
When Junior took out the dog for a walk, he was ambushed by a “local gang of miscreant socialists” – the Pink Ponies who gather every Wednesday evening near the old Chinatown Hotel and Noodle House.
Kitty’s on top of things. She wonders why Junior never named the dog, like Precious or Tito. Or, how could his parents not be aware of the dog being around. “Also, how does Junior know exactly who and when and where the gang is? Sounds like he’s had run-ins with them before! And probably the friendly kind! Somethin’s not addin’ up about this kid!”
Ngo masters the craft of the bumbling hero genre beautifully. Jack is oblivious to the significance of the Mayor stuffing stacks of money into an old suitcase. “Cash is a funny thing,” Jack says. Jack is a funny guy, who appreciated nickels, which could not be misplaced like dimes or were not so pretentious as quarters.”
The Mayor says that he is too busy to worry if there is a dog in the house, believing that his wife would tend to it. The lines are delicious: “But she seems to be more preoccupied with her insatiable desire for money!”
In Ngo’s hands and with Perry’s brilliant comedic grasp, this could be the start of a Jack Mihaff franchise: Hop in, Kitty. We’re ordering stakeout for tonight.
Like “takeout” with an S. So it’s a “stakeout.”
In most cities, the typical mob front business is a restaurant with cocktails, steak, shrimp, seafood and homestyle pasta. But, not in Little Beverly. Meet Skinny Carl’s Doggy Daycare and Spa: “Remember we’re not a dogfighting ring.” Don’t let Vinny shake you down!
Kitty has questions. He drives horrendously and is doing it in a car which Kitty says is a piece of junk.
Jack and Kitty arrive at the Korean BBQ Tavern. Jack wants to talk to Jeon Yeong. He keeps calling Jeon June, which exasperates him. Jeon can’t believe that Jack is asking if he knows where the Chinatown Hotel and Noodle House is. They worked there last summer washing dishes and apparently Jack managed to have both of them fired. Kitty finds this unbelievable. Jeon wants to get on with his life and job at the Korean BBQ Tavern.
Shots have been fired. Jack thinks they are trying to scare them away from “digging any deeper into this canine conspiracy: Good thing Jack wore his brown pants. Meanwhile Jeon has been shot in the leg.
Jack and Kitty are at the stakeout: “The old Chinatown Hotel and Noodle House, huh? Now that’s a place I thought I’d never be going back to. Not since the incident last summer where I committed a workplace crime by stealing cash from their register and then was fired along with the rest of the staff because my constant gaslighting made our boss end up distrusting everyone in the kitchen…”
Kitty is aghast. She wonders if he is even a detective. Jack says his badge proves it but he “must have left it in my mother’s pants pocket.”
They finally spot the Pink Ponies. Jack says, “their leather jackets are pink as my mother’s Valentine Day drawers!” Once again, Kitty is incredulous about what she is hearing from Jack’s mouth.
To Kitty, the gang’s appearance is hardly intimidating: Jack, those kids have gotta be ten years old or somethin’! Look at ‘em, not one of ‘em is above four feet tall!”
Jack and Kitty meet Little Fan and the dog (although Jack first thinks that it’s Junior’s missing necklace). Apparently, Junior stole the dog from the Pink Ponies and they were attempting to recover the pup.
So, Junior was the dog thief but because of his loneliness he wanted to join the gang. “That loner wanted to join us, but when we found out he was the son of that capitalist pig mayor, we kicked ‘im out.”
Jack thinks he has solved the case. Junior was “too terse” to be a dog owner when the dog would “belong to a gang of carefree, spunky kids like you [Little Fan].” Then, Jack drifts off into another bizarre stream-of-consciousness about being a young girl wearing overalls, reading books under a tree all afternoon.
The dog’s name is Little Lenin. And, yes, that Lenin. The Pink Ponies are bona fide socialists. Kitty summarizes the whole caper: “The infamous Pink Ponies Party of the People, meeting in the dark behind the Old Chinatown Hotel and Noodle House. What a sight.”
Kitty is no novice. She is Katherine Trilby, Bureau of Investigation, and arrests the Pink Ponies for suspicion of Communist activity (mind you, this is the 1920s!). She congratulates Jack on his invaluable service for tracking this “dangerous gang” (as if!).”America is a safer place thanks to you.” Jack Mihaff is now a candidate for the pantheon occupied by Frank Drebin of The Naked Gun fame.
Jack wonders what happens to him now, along with the dog and Junior. All he can manage is that twist came out of nowhere. Jack feels dismayed. There’s no future for him in Kitty’s Bureau. She tells him, “you hardly put anything together yourself and frankly you made me uncomfortable.”
Jack is disappointed that he’s hit a romantic deadend with Kitty, the only woman who could awaken fetishes in him that he never knew he had. Awkward as always, Jack says, “If only Mother were here, she’d know what to do. She’d know how to make me happy.”
Kitty tells him to seek therapy and learn how to drive properly.
The Spokesperson brings us back to the story. A day has passed but Trilby cannot shake the thoughts of her encounter. The case might be over, some would say. “But in Little Beverly, sometimes things aren’t as simple as they seem. Sometimes, you’ll find a closed case can still be bursting at the seams, emitting a stench only a true detective can smell: the stench of an unanswered question…”
Kitty wonders out loud:
“Sometimes you work a case so chilling it stays with you long after you’ve closed it. Like walking out of the premiere of your actor friend’s self-directed one-man play. The world goes silent and you can’t help but feel God is telling you to make a change. Any change. Anywhere. Just to make sure you never experience anything like that again. He knew the color of his mother’s underwear. He held onto a gun that smelled like her. And if I remember correctly, he was trying to give her a daughter? I’m not just imagining that, surely! He said that! “
Trainee Jimmy (not exactly the brightest bulb either) asks Kitty about the revolver on her desk. She suddenly realizes that she has an opening to check in on Jack and see if he has yet started therapy: “And if he isn’t, I’ll make him. That’s the only way I’ll shake off this spell: closure!
Jack’s revolver has his mother’s scent on it and all she needs to do is track “that putrid scent in the air” to find him.
Thanks to Little Lenin, the socialist purebred chihuahua, Kitty is surprised to see that the scent has led them to the Korean BBQ Tavern! More comic gold from Ngo. Kitty: “A single scent, a single trail, and one big hunch. Brought me back to my trainee days at the bureau. Only thing missing is a massive hangover from a cocaine-filled soiree the night before.”
And, as usual, Jeon is trying to fend off Jack’s weird behavior. He wants him to put on a wig, pretend that he is his mother and tell him how proud of him she is. Jack is one desperate, messed-up guy.
Jack is happy to see Kitty, Trainee Jimmy and Little Lenin!
Kitty is begging Jack to see a therapist. “I haven’t been able to rid myself of your stench. I need to know that you’re getting help! Almost everything you say is extremely bothersome and saddening! You’re going to therapy now, even if I have to put you in cuffs to do it!”
Jeon is desperate for everyone to leave. Jack is elated. His revolver, which he calls ‘Ol’ Dick’, has been returned to him. Kitty was relieved to reunite it with him, given that she felt like she was “hardcore illegal pornography.”
Meanwhile, Little Lenin has peed on the floor in the restaurant. Everybody laughs except for Jeon, when Trainee Jimmy says, “Dogs will be dogs!”
Kitty and Jack leave together. Jeon, exasperated, says it’s time to leave Little Beverly. And, Little Lenin has the last ‘word.’
With that, the Spokesperson, closes the book on this hilarious tale:
And there you have it folks. A gang busted. A rug ruined. And a detective given a new start, ready again to muddy his shoes in the grimy cobblestone streets of Little Beverly – this time, with a healthy-ish circle of support, and a wee bit of direction on how to address whatever it was that was the matter with him.
This may have been a shocking tale to you, my dear listeners, full of twists, turns, and upsetting information that you wish you never knew – but to the citizens of Little Beverly, it was simply another Wednesday. Tune in next week, God and funding be willing, to find out if another episode of the Long Adventures of Jack MiHaff has made it to air. And until then, I bid you adieu.
Fast-paced comedy animated this strange smart sendup of noir detective stories. Ngo gave the actors a basket overflowing with the lines that ensemble actors relish for these types of stories. Perry has a knack for adding just enough creepy, weird tones to these types of characters. Reeder was great as Kitty and as Miss Butteface. Bennett puffed up the self-inflated importance of Mayor Butteface with great effect. Evanoff’s scoring gives heft to the period vibe. This would make a fantastic live stage production.