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Monica Valentinelli

Neil Gaiman’s “Two Plays for Voices” Audiobook Review

Posted on January 2, 2008 by Monica Valentinelli


Available at Amazon.com

Neil Gaiman’s Two Plays for Voices on Audio Cassette
Snow Glass Apples
Voice by Bebe Neuwirth
Murder Mysteries
Voice by Brian Dennehy
Written by Neil Gaiman

If you’re in your car on the way to work, you might do as I do and invest in audiobooks. This particular audiobook was a rare find; I managed to get my hands on a copy of two plays for voices without ever knowing it existed. In fact, when I picked this up I had no idea what it was about, I just bought it on blind faith, hoping that Gaiman’s work would not disappoint me. I was pleasantly surprised.

Snow Glass Apples Review

This is a dark re-telling of the popular fairy tale, Snow White. The story is told from the perspective of the Queen or, what you would recognize as, “the evil Stepmother.” In this fairy tale, however, Snow White is the antagonist, a re-imagined vampire that poses a very real threat to the kingdom. Unlike other dark fantasies, however, this is a very earthy, human tale with sexual overtones, making this a loose interpretation of the fairy tale.

Told in a little over an hour, Bebe Neuwirth does a fantastic job acting as the Queen; her diction and her intonation are perfect, commendable for an actress known for her signature, monotone voice. In this case, that intonation works for her, adding an element of dry, sardonic tones to loosely walk the line between a woman who fears for her life and a woman who will protect her kingdom – no matter what the cost.

At times, the story read a little like Poe’s “The Telltale Heart,” for the only way to “stop” Snow White from killing again is to tie up her heart with garlic. From there, the similarities really end. The organic, fleshy nature of this story is truly what sets it apart from other fairy tales; Gaiman writes about sex and the body naturally, to integrate the difference between “life” and “death” as themes to the story.

In addition to the voices, the story is enhanced by the sound effects and the soundtrack. The strength of this story is in the performance, and could be heard while you are sipping coffee, in your car, or are enjoying a lazy morning in bed.

Murder Mysteries Review

Told in layers, Murder Mysteries is a modern dark fantasy with biblical themes. Brian Dennehy is the character of Raguel, the angel of vengeance trapped (or so it would seem) in L.A. Dennehy adds a lot to the character and was cast perfectly for this performance primarily because this is a murder mystery on two levels. Without giving too much away, the story is narrated by another character credited as “Narrator” in the cast. Michael Emerson plays an Englishman visiting LA. Lost in the city streets, the character encounters Raguel who proceeds to narrate the story of the “First Crime” in the Silver City (Heaven).

Unlike other biblically-inspired fiction, this story isn’t rich with theology or morals and the Silver City is a great example of that. Angels work, they function, and they build. In Murder Mysteries, angels are not the ethereal, free-floating, guiders of humanity; they have jobs dictated to them by God. Their individual purposes are the reason why this story deviates from most biblical tales; this is a re-imagining of the squall before the storm, the Miltonesque fight that sends Lucifer down to hell.

In this way, the story is less about “religion” and more about “plot.” The ironic resolution happens quickly, and my only criticism is that the overall plot (i.e. the Narrator’s story) is a bit too vague and almost leaves too much to the imagination.

Conclusion

One of the hardest challenges for any audiobook, is the ability to hold the listener’s attention. There are two pieces to this: the sound and the story. For me, I usually feel like the biggest risk is the sound. If the voice isn’t engaging, even the most interesting tale will sound stale. The professional voice talents of veteran actress Bebe Neuwirth (you’ll remember her from the television show Cheers) and veteran actor Brian Dennehy (CSI, Law and Order, and a number of movies and TV shows) really make this audiobook shine, along with talented supporting cast members.

Two Plays for Voices is a nice blend of dark and urban fantasy. The performances last about two hours in total and is well worth a listen.

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