Cape Noir Radio Theater Debuts ‘An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge’

by Jennifer Sexton-Riley

Cape Noir Radio Theater is back with an all-new audio drama adapted from an eerie tale some may remember from their English class days, while others may recall it from a spooky 1964 episode of “The Twilight Zone.”

“An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge,” adapted and produced by Cape Noir Radio Theater founder J Hagenbuckle, will air on WOMR 92.1 fm, WFMR 91.3 fm and livestream at on Thursday, March 28 at 8:30 p.m.

Whether or not you’ve read the 1890 short story by author and Civil War veteran Ambrose Bierce, when you listen to Cape Noir’s production you will be taken on a powerful, thrilling journey. In his adaptation, Hagenbuckle has made the ordeal of the story’s protagonist, injured war veteran Peyton, even more fascinating. If you thought he went through a lot in the original story, get ready for an even more harrowing adventure. This brand new, original adaptation also brings Peyton’s wife, Fay — barely mentioned in the original story — out of the shadows to become a second, compelling voice. With a fluid point of view shared by two characters, a non-linear narrative structure and the gripping setting of a small town caught in the balance of two Civil War armies, “An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge” is an experience you won’t soon forget.

And if you happen to know how it ends — shh. No spoilers!

Hagenbuckle first encountered “An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge” at the age of 12, when he happened to see the black and white “Twilight Zone” version on television. This one-of-a-kind episode hadn’t been written, created and produced like all other episodes of the program, but was instead acquired from another creator, and broadcast with entirely new audio and slight edits. As the legend goes, iconic “Twilight Zone” creator, host and narrator Rod Serling happened to view a short film titled “La Rivière du Hibou,” which had already won awards at Cannes and The Academy Awards, at a French film festival. Serling was so taken with the compelling, dialogue-free film that he convinced producer William Froug to purchase the American rights, and with some edits and new audio, “An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge” became episode 22 of the fifth season of “The Twilight Zone.”

“It absolutely blew me away,” Hagenbuckle recalled. “It made a huge impact on me. I had no idea you could do something like that, that kind of plot, and that resolution. The episode had no dialogue, so that was another thing that amazed me. You can do all that with no talking? Recently, somehow, it came back to me, and I thought this would be a really good episode for Cape Noir Radio Theater.”

Hagenbuckle dove into the original story, which since its first publication over 130 years ago has become one of the most anthologized short stories in American literature. After reading it, he investigated some other adaptations, including an episode of “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” from 1959, and an episode of the radio drama series “Suspense” featuring Vincent Price, also from 1959.

“They were very interesting, but for different reasons they just weren’t working for me,” Hagenbuckle said. “I knew I had to do something more with it.”

Something more took the form of creating the character of Fay, the protagonist’s wife, who becomes a second narrator. Hagenbuckle also gave the couple children and a more fleshed-out home life, and complicated protagonist Peyton’s narrative by giving him a war injury which has left him nearly blind. The non-linear point of view switches back and forth in place and time as it leaps between Peyton and Fay, taking listeners on a fascinating ride.

“I gave him the blinding accident in the war, thinking this could make his ordeal even more difficult, and he would need to rely on his hearing. His world would be sound,” Hagenbuckle said. “That idea opened things up. This really is the most deeply emotional story I’ve written. I feel really good about the changes I made.”

The roles of Peyton and Fay are portrayed by Casey Clark and Tamara Harper, both familiar figures on our local stages. Harper has worked on a number of Cape Noir Radio Theater productions, and said they are always fun to be a part of. She had never read the short story or seen the “Twilight Zone” episode of “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” until Hagenbuckle invited her into the project.

“J's adaptation is rich and full,” Harper said. “The character of Peyton is fully developed and you can see his entire life in the 30 minutes of the episode. The story takes the audience on a journey with Peyton. My character, Fay, is only briefly referenced in the other versions. Because I was both Fay and the narrator of the story, I had to ask (without giving too much away) what is real? What is a dream, a waking dream, a vision, what is true, and what is imagined?”

Harper recalled when she first listened to the completed version of the Cape Noir Radio Theater production with Clark and Hagenbuckle.

“When you are recording, you are only acting your part. You have to imagine the other characters,” Harper said. “You imagine what you are reacting to, and what you are hearing and seeing, so to hear it completed with Casey and the sound design and editing was impactful. We were all silent. It was moving for all of us even though we knew the story and what was going to happen.”

Clark said when he came to the end of J’s radio script for the first time, he remembered that he had read the original story before. “The ending is so viscerally shocking,” Clark said. “My body and mind suddenly remembered that we had been through this before, some 25 years ago. I was drawn to J’s adaptation due to his expanded exploration of the spaces between life and death. It beautifully sets up for a clash between our imaginal and material realities. It’s also a testament to the power of love.”

Cape Noir Radio Theater’s haunting new adaptation of “An Occurrence at Owl Creek” will be broadcast and streamed on Thursday, March 28 at 8:30 p.m. at WOMR 92.1 fm, WFMR 91.3 fm and