Sunday, February 24, 2013

A World Premiere Goes Onstage and "On The Air"

Maxine Gaiber is executive director of the Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts and founding board director of the Delaware Arts Art Alliance.  She has no background in theater review but her high school art teacher wrote in her yearbook, "be gentle as a critic," and she is finally following his advice!

There is something about radio in the 1940s that continues to capture the imaginations of playwrights and movie makers.  From Woody Allen’s 1987 Radio Days to the Delaware Theatre Company’s 2009 It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play, productions abound that capture the manic antics, commercial jingles, and ingenious sound effects of the heyday of radio.  Kevin Regan and Joe Trainor’s On the Air belongs to this continuum but differs as it focuses on a single week in December 1941.  It captures the sense of unease and helplessness that was in the air (and on the airwaves) as America watches events unfold in the days before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

The musical opens as “Sunshine Days,” a long-running radio soap opera populated with both has-been and still-aspiring talent, is preparing for a move from New York to California.  Both cast and production team are at the mercy of their sponsor as they connive to impress their bosses and continue with the production. Alternating with their machinations are increasingly ominous reports about war activities.

Introduced as a developing work and soliciting audience feedback, the production is quite polished. Genre-bending, it combines a classic love story of shy, under-declared love with rousing musical numbers and Bertold Brecht-like political overtones. The outstanding cast is strong individually as well as in ensemble, and the musical numbers were well-conceived and well-sung, although even the strongest voices were sometimes overshadowed by an overly emphatic percussionist. Jim Burns and Dylan Geringer’s duets were particularly lovely and Matt Casarino and Jill Knapp captured the 1940s radio tone and pacing extremely well. The less-than-perfect sight lines of the Delaware Opera’s black box theater were dealt with by periodically placing actors on chairs, which just made this acrophobic reviewer nervous. Hiding the cast under umbrellas to protect them from what was going on around them was clever staging, but using small, collapsible umbrellas seemed a bit too modern for 1941.

The ninety-minute production moves along at a brisk pace and, as usual, City Theater Company offers an evening of solid theater at a reasonable price.  New productions like On the Air should be encouraged and supported by our local community.  To paraphrase William Shakespeare, the “Sunshine Days” poor players strut and fret their hour upon the stage, while on the world stage major events are unfolding that will affect the lives of many millions.  The play gives us pause to consider how we are preoccupied on a daily basis by our own personal dramas while ignoring the significant issues that surround us. 

On The Air runs March 1 & 2 at The Black Box at OperaDelaware Studios.  See

No comments:

Post a Comment