Radio Days

Before television, radio served as the living room theater of the times. Listeners would tune in to follow their favorite characters in serials that boasted drama, suspense, and romance, as well as sound effects (supplied by foley artists) so they could visualize the action. Now, that simple idea has been turned around by putting the living room in the theater, as in the onstage radio productions of Radio Theater. Its current show, King Kong, is running through the end of December at the Kraine Theater, which makes for a timely tie-in with Peter Jackson's new remake of the 1933 film. As in the movie, nature filmmaker Carl Denham has learned of a place called Skull Island that's packed with fantastic beasts, and decides to make his next picture there. But when he has trouble finding a female lead willing to make a sea voyage with his rough and tumble all-male crew, he scours Manhattan for a fresh face. He soon meets the down-and-out starlet Ann Darrow, who's grateful for a place to sleep and somewhere to eat. The sailors are wary of Ann at first, but eventually grow fond of her�especially Jack Driscoll, who professes his love, which Ann returns in kind. Upon arriving at Skull Island, they learn of the dreaded Kong, and Carl becomes obsessed with putting him in the movie. But his fixation has disastrous results.

The story of a gigantic ape, the man who wants him, and the woman whom Kong wants is not entirely suited to the radio format. There are battles between huge prehistoric beasts and the destruction of much of Manhattan by Kong, both of which can't be depicted by prerecorded sound alone. Adapter Dan Bianchi has added a narrator to advance the plot, which was a normal practice in these types of broadcasts. But between Collin Biddle's tentative vocal performance and the overwritten, half-baked lines he's made to say, the narration actually slowed down the proceedings rather than expedited them.

Though the concept would lead you to believe that this is supposed to be the re-creation of a sound booth where performers acted out their roles and then waited for cues (like AMC's TV show Remember WENN), the staging instead employs awkward entrances and exits and blackouts at the end of scenes. Since these actors aren't changing costumes and the show's not too long, why not keep them onstage? If the director was looking for a bit of visual flair, he could've employed a foley artist to come up with inventive, elaborate ways to provide sound cues, rather than the two sullen characters hidden behind a host of machinery.

The production does have some good things going for it. John Nolan's mellifluous voice is criminally underutilized in the small roles of the host and Captain Englehorn. His "day job" is radio announcing; why not employ him as the narrator? Donna Heffernan plays Ann as a husky-toned angel of the streets, but she also has fun with a few celebrity impersonations at Kong's New York City coming-out party.

Still, it's not enough to make up for the slow pacing of what should be an exciting and fun event. Upon exiting, one young audience member said, "[The postcard] said, 'King Kong live onstage,' but you didn't see him!" Maybe a more imaginative production would have allowed him to.

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