The Golden Age of Radio
Also see Sarah's coverage of the William, Inc. staged reading
I happened to catch a segment of Garrison Keillor's "Prairie Home Companion" as I was on my way to see Rio Grande Players' The Golden Age of Radio (being presented until July 21st at Congregation Albert). It struck me how most of the people I know who listen to "Prairie Home," as well as the other weekend variety and quiz show radio offerings on public radio, tend to be quite young. My parents certainly never listened to radio programs like these while I was growing up (although I know they used to as children). And then, as I walked into a small chapel in the Congregation Albert I noticed how my fellow audience members and the players themselves are mostly all from my grandparents' generationthe generation who enjoyed the real "golden age of radio" spanning the 1930s through the 1950s. I wonder if an appreciation for radio drama and variety shows has skipped a generation.
The Rio Grande Players' program consists of three different radio plays taken from the '30s-'50s. They present these in typical radio drama style: microphones and sound equipment, actors with scripts in hand, a pianist to provide accompaniment, a sound foley on the side with props such as a tiny door that can creak open and slam shut, outdated and funny commercials proclaiming the health benefits of Philip Morris cigarettes, and a live audience to watch it all happen in real time. They don't actually record and/or broadcast what they produce, however. I thought that might be an interesting next step for the group: to see about a collaboration with KUNM perhaps; that way, home-bound seniors would be able to tune into the performances.
The team of actors, led by Producer/Director Yolanda Day, are clearly enjoying themselves up there, despite the unusual surroundings (we are in a sanctuary after all) and despite the smallish audience. Actors Cyndy Noll, Audrey Payson, Arthur Alpert and Rick Huff put in especially skilled performances in their various roles. Some of the other actors could use more practice and variance in character voices. That's what makes radio acting exciting after all: seeing one actor produce many different kinds of characters by altering his voice and speech. Along these same lines, I wish there were more focus on variance in sound effects as well. It would make the program more enjoyable to see all the different kinds of effects that sound foleys employed before canned recordings became available, and the unusual actions or props they used to produce those sounds.
The plays themselves get better as we go along. The "Easy Aces" episode is a slow-starter and could be done without. The second more humorous play, taken from "The Great Gildersleeve" series, is founded on the premise of an aging uncle dreaming of what his "three dance dates" wild night would be like if he were to buy a new pair of white flannel trousers (the fashion equivalent of today's "bro-tank" perhaps?). And they save the best for last with the "Duffy's Tavern" episode, which is the most polished and fully realized of the three.
The Golden Age of Radio continues at Congregation Albert through Sunday, July 21st. For tickets and more information visit www.riograndeplayers.org.