Radio Play, created and written by Reggie Watts and Tommy Smith, is an extended surreal riff on the radio plays of old with Watts as the central performer. Gone are the linear story lines, but the elements – compelling story, dramatic sound effects, classic advertising jingles, and intrigue – remain. These elements are interwoven with Watt’s unique humor, satirical commentary, and musical wit. The stage space, designed by Seth Reiser, is alive and cluttered. A painting of Napoleon on his horse with Watt’s face replacing Napoleon’s is prominently lit upstage. A record plays on an old box player. An old faux wood paneled television is on, but only static fills the screen. A reel-to-reel is spinning with no film, and various pieces of old equipment – cassette players, stereos, sound and light boards - blink in green and red. They must be doing something, or are they merely retro traces of days gone by? Lurking in the shadows are a couple of actors and two sound artists waiting for the house to fill and the evening to start (or has it already begun?). “Evil” looms in red lights above a door upstage center.
Suddenly a bright light shoots across the space and there is silence. A women, Jen Rondeau, enters and makes her way around the space toward the light. Standing, backlit, she quietly raises her left hand and the eerie sounds of a theremin fill the room, reminding me of 1950’s and 60’s science fiction shows and murder mysteries. And we are off - catapulted into an organized chaos, an absurdist surreal daydream created by Watts and Smith.
This is audio drama for today’s audience. The narrative is a nonlinear mash-up of story fragments and summaries, pop culture references, songs, advertising, beat boxing, and sound effects with references stretching across decades. This timelessness is complemented by costuming, designed by Jessica Pabst, evocative of retro 30’s through the 50’s and today.
Watts and Smith use the form of radio plays to take the audience on a familiar yet disconcerting journey. A cacophony of advertising jingles is simultaneously suggestive of each product and phonically melds into a single rhythmic soundscape. A pastoral tale of a couples’ camping trip leads to infidelity and is punctuated by the loud loss of bodily control. One man escapes the mundane into a mysterious fog where everything is o.k. And a game show participant, actress Mary Jane Gibson, dramatically summarizes the entire plot of the film Fatal Attraction with poignant use of vocal effects – “plink…plink.”
Radio Play is directed by Kip Fagan; additional actors are Beth Hoyt, Marshall York, and H.I. Bonner. Gibson also contributed additional writing to the production. This theatrical entertainment – and entertaining it is – is intended to be heard more than seen, yet the immediacy of live performance is vital to the show. Radio Play is an audio feast – funny, illusive, satirical, dramatic – with minimal visual stimuli. It gives our ears and imaginations a chance to play.