Dallas’ Pegasus Theatre continues to captivate audiences with its own golden age classics

An inside look at Pegasus Theatre and its ongoing production of “The Color of Death”

Pegasus Theatre "The Color of Death"
An advertisement for Pegasus Theatre’s “The Color of Death” – Pictures courtesy of Pegasus Theatre

When Pegasus Theatre founder Kurt Kleinmann developed the first detective Harry Hunsacker script, he originally envisioned his bumbling gumshoe character getting the standard trilogy treatment. Now, a little over 38 years and 22 scripts later, the detective and aspiring actor is still delighting Dallas audiences alongside his sidekick Nigel Grouse in the theater’s signature Living Black and White makeup style.

“It really captured people’s imagination,” Kleinmann said, referring to both the character and the eye-catching medium in which he appears. Kleinmann developed the Living Black and White makeup process for the Hunsacker series to reflect the classic films of the 1930s and 40s. The era serves as both setting and inspiration for the plays. Hunsacker and Grouse act as an inverse of the dynamic between Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, with Grouse acting more as the brains of the operation. Pegasus Theatre audiences also see the characters and setting entirely in black and white as if they were watching one of the original Basil Rathbone-led Holmes movies of the time.

Kleinmann originally starred as Harry Hunsacker for the first 31 years of the detective’s time on stage but has since passed the stage role to Scott Nixon. Nevertheless, Kleinmann is reprising his role as Hunsacker in Pegasus Theatre’s ongoing production of “The Color of Death” through March 23 at the Bath House Cultural Center. The show is “in thrilling RadioVizion” meaning it’s performed as a stage reading designed to mimic a serialized radio broadcast rather than a traditional play.

“It is like you’re watching a radio show as the studio audience,” Leslie Patrick said. Patrick is a makeup artist, actor, production manager and producer who first began working with Pegasus Theatre back in 1999. She’s currently working with fellow Dallas theater company Plague Mask Players on its 1950s sitcom-inspired adaptation of William Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew” in Living Black and White but has performed in past RadioVizion productions at the theater. “It is the first time we have ever used the black and white technique for anything other than a black and white Harry Hunsacker play,” Kleinmann said, referring to how Patrick has worked with Plague Mask Players on how to utilize the Living Black and White makeup.

According to Patrick, the RadioVizion production doesn’t use makeup or a traditional set, relying on minimal stage blocking and less intensive costuming designed as more of “a suggestion of the time period.” In lieu of props and set pieces, it enlists a foley artist to create the sound effects needed for the “broadcast” live for the audiences, similar to the original processes used for radio shows.

Pegasus Theatre notes “The Color of Death” follows Hunsacker and Grouse as they “are enlisted by the Army to join forces with Lt. Foster in 1944 and go undercover to infiltrate a top-secret Nazi research lab in Bavaria. They quickly discover the Nazis have a history-changing weapon they are about to unleash which will dramatically alter the world as we know it. It’s up to Harry to destroy this weapon before it can be used.”

Kleinmann originally wrote the show under the title “The Time of Death” in 1999 as a reference to the ongoing Y2K scare. For the RadioVizion performances, audiences will see a two-act variation of the show instead of the play’s original three-act performance.

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Kleinmann and Patrick both pointed to a variety of different influences that have helped to make the Hunsacker series an enduring mainstay of the metroplex for so many years.

“Every few years, there’s a resurgence of a generation discovering these old movies, and black and white,” Patrick said, crediting everything from fashion to the rise of streaming services and social media with helping popularize the era. For example, she pointed to how the Transatlantic accent typically used in classic Hollywood films rose to prominence again on TikTok as a potential influence. “I’m always surprised to have conversations with younger people who are like, ‘Yes, ‘The Thin Man’ series is my favorite,’” Patrick said.

Kleinmann said the Harry Hunsacker shows are also popular among children because the plays don’t talk to them. “They can understand the character of Harry because he’s very childlike. He’s like a five-year-old,” Kleinmann said, adding that “it’s always been a great pleasure” to see kids respond to the character and a style of show that he grew up watching. “I just think we keep finding an audience because there is a universality to these,” Kleinmann said, singling out the dynamic between the starring characters. “It’s very relatable.”

Pegasus Theatre’s “The Color of Death” runs through March 23 at the Bath House Cultural Center in Dallas. For more information, including how to purchase tickets, visit https://pegasustheatre.org/.

These interviews have been edited for clarity.


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