Ray Bradbury

The Art of the Airwaves

Radio Hour, the latest Yale Cabaret offering, was a good choice for Halloween weekend, featuring “Zero Hour,” an eerie sci-fi tale by Ray Bradbury, adapted for radio, and an episode of John Meston’s Gunsmoke. The show, a live “broadcast” in the style of late fifties radio, offers not only the entertainment of experiencing the variety of voices an actor is capable of, but also the opportunity to see the making of all the special sound effects, called Foley.

Conceived by Tyler Kieffer—who gets to do the unmistakeable voice of Sheriff Matt Dillon’s sidekick, Chester, in Gunsmoke—and Steve Brush, who, like Kieffer, performs some of the many sound effects, and directed by Paula Bennett, the show is a straight-forward homage to an era of entertainment that predates most of us in the audience. The best thing about the show is its grasp of the showbiz conventions that made radio programs so indelible for their listeners, and its wonderful evocation, via Hunter Kaczorowski's costumes and the props of Reid Thompson's scenic design, of radio as it was two generations ago.

And yet it's no disservice to say that, while it’s hard not to look at actors and Foley artists performing before one, the entire show might be best enjoyed with one’s eyes closed, letting it all take place in one’s mind, as it did for listeners in the time of classic radio. The show includes genuine commercial breaks, a part of the whole that becomes one of the more entertaining aspects of Radio Hour as nothing says nostalgia like the ads of yesteryear. (I saw the show late Saturday night with my daughter and we were greatly amused to see and hear a rendition of the Choo-Choo Charlie commercial for Good’n’Plenty that, in an animated version on TV, was a part of my childhood that I verbalized for her childhood.)

Anyone watching Radio Hour is bound to have his or her favorite voice moment—Prema Cruz’s laconic Shilo is a voice that immediately creates an image, and her little kid voice is entertainingly vivid, as is Ariana Venturi’s Mink, a bratty kid who turns against her parents in favor of a mysterious playmate called “Dril”; Brendan Pelsue creates a bizarre over-the-top pastiche of accents for the Announcer that amuses and surprises, while Aaron Luis Profumo performs the toffee-voiced tones of a patient dad, as well as the masculine composure of Sheriff Dillon, matched by the coy affection of Ashton Heyl’s Big Kate. Seconding all the vocal talent—and creating footsteps, slamming doors, fist fights, gunshots, dramatic music and jingles—the one for Mr. Clean is bound to stay in your head—are Foley artist/musicians Kieffer, Brush, Jing (Annie) Yin, and David Perry.

The stories selected are easy to follow, and also somewhat didactic: parents learn the price of their condescension to their children’s imaginations in Zero Hour, and a would-be husband learns that even in the patriarchal Old West taking a woman for granted can lead to humiliation, especially with Matt Dillon around to set things right. The cast played well to the audience’s sense of old-time charm, so that the entire evening was a bit like time travel.

It’s interesting that shows which, whether on radio or TV, would strike us as corny or simplistic, can inspire a respect when played with a sense of history and irony for audiences otherwise too sophisticated for such genre fare. Which leads me to wonder if, with shows like Mad Men trading on the “romance” of advertising, it’s not time for a TV show set on an old-time radio program where the interface between what happens on and off the air is where the comedy or drama lies.

For Radio Hour, the entertainment is in the staging even more than in what is staged.

Radio Hour Featuring Ray Bradbury’s Zero Hour and John Meston’s Gunsmoke Conceived by Tyler Kieffer and Steve Brush Directed by Paula Bennett

Dramaturg: Helen Jaksch; Scenic Designer: Reid Thompson; Costume Designer: Hunter Kaczorowski; Lighting Designer: Joey Moro; Sound Designer: Tyler Kieffer; Sound Designer/Composer: Steve Brush; Stage Manager: Kate Pincus; Technical Director: Rose Bochansky; Producer: Melissa Zimmerman; Photographs by Nick Thigpen

Yale Cabaret October 31-November 2, 2013

This week the Cab is dark, then returns November 14-16, with Sarah Kane’s Crave, directed by Hansol Jung, a play that investigates the psychic costs of the creative act with a quartet of actors enacting voices all alive in a writer’s mind.


The Cabaret Continues...

The Yale Cabaret is dark this weekend, but the shows for the rest of the semester—and into early January—have been chosen. The upcoming schedule boasts a daunting mix of plays by challenging playwrights—Sarah Kane, Edward Bond—plays adapted from other sources, such as stories by Raymond Carver, Ray Bradbury, and the popular entertainment Gunsmoke, plays originating with YSD actors leagued with YSD directors, and a movement piece developed by two prominent Cabaret theater managers. Here’s the line-up: Up next week is Cab 4: Beginners by Raymond Carver, or What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, October 17-19. Carver was the preeminent American short story writer of the 1980s, but the play is not simply an enactment of one of his stories; rather, the story “What We Talk About…” is famous as one of the best-known stories by Carver that was in fact heavily edited by Gordon Lish before appearing in print. The play, adapted by 2nd-year YSD playwright Phillip Howze and directed by 2nd-year YSD director Andras Viski, dramatizes the writing process as well as the fraught relationships in the story, with a set design intended to suggest both the reality and unreality of fiction.

After a dark week, Cab 5 brings us Radio Hour, a chance to peek behind the scenes at a lost art: telling stories on a live radio broadcast. With ten performers, the show, adapted by Tyler Kieffer and Steve Brush of the YSD sound department and directed by Paula Bennett, stresses “slick not schtick” in its authentic radio effects dramatization of 1950s staples of radio programming, John Meston's Western Gunsmoke (which would go on to be one of the longest-running TV shows ever), and “Zero Hour” (not to be confused with the Rod Serling radio program from the Seventies), a tale from the fertile pen of sci-fi/thriller-writer Ray Bradbury.  Radio Hour will be a fitting show for Halloween weekend—come as a cowboy or an alien. October 31-November 2.

After another dark week, a production of Sarah Kane’s Crave is Cab 6. Directed by 3rd year YSD playwright Hansol Jung, this four-person play explores the voices in the mind of a playwright in the midst of creation. Kane is known for the open-ended, interpretive nature of her plays, in which speakers are often unspecified, leaving much to the creative team to devise.  November 14-16.

Cab 7 takes place the week before Thanksgiving—the American holiday that celebrates getting by. Derivatives, conceived by 3rd-year YSD actor Jabari Brisport and directed by 3rd-year YSD director Cole Lewis, is a devised, multimedia theater piece that explores the increasing distance between the Haves and the Have-nots in this land of ours. The disparity in incomes in the U.S. is greater than it’s been since the 1920s. Political, entertaining, with a real sense of problems and the need for solutions, the play is not afraid to ask the big questions. November 21-23.

The week after Thanksgiving, and the last show of the first semester, is Cab 8, a movement piece called Bound to Burn, developed by Rob Chikar and Alyssa Simmons, two Cab regulars who work behind-the-scenes on many shows, as Stage Manager and Theater Manager, respectively, and who share a penchant for dancing. The show investigates the experience of loss, using bodily rather than verbal expression. December 5-7.

The first two shows of the next semester, following the winter holidays, take place in January: Cab 9 features Have I None, a daunting play by British playwright Edward Bond from 2000. Set in 2077, the play darkly imagines a dystopia in which memory, and therefore history, has been erased. Second-year YSD director Jessica Holt will stage the claustrophobic play—in which going out of one’s room is risky business---with a stress on Bond's sense of the absurd. January 16-18.

Cab 10 features 3rd-year YSD actress Elia Monte-Brown’s original play, The Defendant, about the rigors of public school in New York (where Monte-Brown taught before enrolling at Yale); the play aims to recreate some of the anxieties of today’s student, and to question the values of public education in America, using all 1st year actors in the YSD program. January 23-25.

And that’s the line-up, as the Cab continues its mission of exploring the purpose of theater in our community—as entertainment and provocation, as a questioning of and a response to the world we live in. There’s a little something for everyone—the past, the present, the future; the nowhere space of creation; the problems of education and the economy; the bonds of bodily contact; the voices of our inner demons; the voices on the airwaves. See you at the Cab!

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