Play: “Radio Hour 2011”
Group: Soundstage Productions
Venue: #220, Crestwood Arts Space, Crestwood Court, Watson at Sappington
Dates: April 15, 16, 17
Tickets: $10; contact firstname.lastname@example.org or purchase at box office
Story: In the second annual installment of its paean to classic radio shows, Soundstage offers a smorgasbord of entertainment from the era when radio was king. Re-enactments of several classic commercials for Philip Morris cigarettes, Carter’s liver pills, Palmolive soap and Ex-Lax bracket the first act feature, a comedy skit about the quarreling Bickersons, John and Blanche, which originally appeared on the “Chase & Sanborn Hour.”
The second act is a dramatization of a famous “Suspense Theater” story titled “Sorry, Wrong Number,” about an invalid woman who accidentally overhears a murder plot on her telephone’s party line and frantically tries to get the phone operator and the police to track down the would-be killers. The tense drama, which aired originally in 1943 and starred Agnes Moorehead, is presented without commercial interruption courtesy of “Roma Wines,” as our announcer intones repeatedly before and after the presentation.
Highlights: Soundstage bills itself as “Theatre of the Mind,” which “emphasizes the actor as storyteller and the actor’s voice as the first instrument.” The company requests that its audience use its imagination to flesh out the presentation. Classic radio productions offer fertile soil for this approach, and as a result it works quite pleasantly. In a brisk 75 minutes or so, director Angela Sebben Frick guides her troupe and the audience through an amusing bit of time traveling into the 1940s when the family radio held center stage in the living room and opened up worlds of comedy and drama that played out over the wireless.
Just as entertaining in this presentation are delightful renditions of classic commercials, including doctor-approved cigarettes and sundry products guaranteed to alleviate various forms of discomfort. It’s all great stuff as presented in appropriately straightforward fashion by the players.
Other Info: The cast makes the best of Soundstage’s inordinately cramped performing area, which must accommodate several daises for scripts as well as chairs for the actors to use when they’re not part of the skit. Jenn Ciaverella’s lighting shines the spotlight on the players of each moment, all of whom are dressed in black, and Andy Ruzicka’s judicious sound editing heightens the delivery, particularly with the old-time telephone rings that are crucial for the “Sorry, Wrong Number” skit.
Mark Abels deftly handles the announcer’s chores, keeping a straight face through the sometimes unintentionally amusing scripts, while adding just the right touch of emphasis in delivery. Ann Egenriether really gets rolling as the cantankerous, nasty old lady whose browbeating of a totally disinterested telephone operator (an amusingly droll Dianna Thomas) gradually turns to fear and hysteria. Nancy Nigh captures the continual carping of Blanche Bickerson, while Kenneth Brostow tries mightily but falls short of conveying the exasperation and short fuse of her husband. Brostow is better in the amusing ad for Carter’s Liver Pills and as a Cuban infatuated with the legendary Roma wines.
David Bornholdt has a good turn as a bored police sergeant in “Sorry” and as Brostow’s pal in the liver pill commercial as well as the spiffy Palmolive spot about the travails of three ladies who yearn for better complexions. Nigh, Thomas and Egenriether play those women, with Lauren Rubin as a physician who comments on the relative values of the soap, as well as portraying various women in other bits. Thomas is also entertaining as the plaintive voice of a puppy Blanche Bickerson has stowed away in her bedroom, while Jeff Stewart has fun both as the Blanche’s meddling brother Amos and the executioner of the insidious murder plot in “Sorry.”
“Radio Hour 2011” is a light, low-key effort that succeeds in hearkening back to the distinctive sounds and theatrical styles of a different era.
Rating: A 4 on a scale of 1-to-5.