nytheatre.com review by Matt Roberson
May 15, 2011
In P.S. 122’s neighborhood, they don’t come more rock star than Reggie Watts. Projecting his hilarious, charming, and completely unique persona, Watts enters boldly in Radio Play, the audience gasping, stretching their necks to catch that first glimpse. (I’d like to see some Broadway celeb try and get the same response down here.) And depending on who you ask, he’s either an unmatched comedian, or performance artist, or both. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing him twice in 2011, and without a doubt can say that he is as funny and exciting as you’ve heard. Unfortunately, as was the case with January’s Dutch A/V, Watts and collaborator Tommy Smith seem so focused on the “experiment” of the efforts, they forget to leave a trail for the rest of us.
Radio Play glances back to the sound-only dramas of the pre-television days for inspiration. In a setting that is both a dusty, homegrown studio and electronics graveyard, Radio presents a sonic collage of scenes, monologues, and whatever else emerges from Watts’s upstage station. It begins by teasing us with a very funny send-up of the hard-boiled detective drama. Watts’s character, upon seeing the legs of the damsel in distress, breathes into the microphone “Her gams were so gammy.”
If there is a constant idea running through Radio Play, it is Watts’s and Smith’s desire to explore our connection to popular culture. In one of the more thoughtful moments of the night, three actors run through a seemingly endless list of those marketing slogans that have successfully buried themselves in our collective consciousness. It’s a powerful, well-directed moment by Kip Fagan that left me wondering how my brain has been able to hold so much advertising for products I never use. In another scene, Watts and Beth Hoyt clown through a hilariously cheesy sitcom opening that, not surprisingly, could just as easily been taken from a real TV show. And the biggest applause came after Mary Jane Gibson’s impressive, and high-octane, summation of Fatal Attraction’s plot.
But outside of their exploration of our culture’s familiarity with things we see on a screen, I don’t think I can say what Radio Play is actually about. As was the case with Dutch A/V, I found myself both entertained and yet longing for some throughline that I could grab on to. The always shifting sounds and use of technology is an experience worth having, but not one that, in this capacity, led me to any deeper conclusions or ideas. This shortfall is a shame, for clearly this is a creative team full of thoughtful, progressive thinkers.
At just an hour, the play is funny enough, the performances interesting enough, the sound loud and varying enough, to keep even the curmudgeonliest of the curmudgeons entertained. You’ll also hear what I imagine is the first entirely aural “oral.” And of course, there’s Reggie Watts. If you’ve never heard him, you’ll be glad you did; if you’re already a fan, you’ll be reminded why that is. But in drama, humor, technology, and a good idea can only take a play so far, and for Radio Play, it isn’t quite far enough.