What they say it is:
Okay For Radio presents The Storm, a full length radio play about a cranky, old hermit upon whom everyone descends during an approaching storm (including a pesky neighbor, an annoying telephone operator stranded snooty socialites from Boston, and desperate bandits on the run from goofball police and a special detective sent to investigate in Memphis, Tennessee). If you want to hear classic radio with live voices and real sound effects, step back into the past and listen how it sounded way back when.
On Thursday, as is typical, we scanned over the Funsavers list, looking to plan our weekend art fix. Winter is a tough time for live arts in the city–the holiday surges of Nutcrackers and Dickens are long over, and it’s still too early to expect the uptick of springtime events. Still, there were a couple items worth our consideration, and after balancing the factors of cost-effective entertainment and geography, The Storm appeared to be our best choice.
The scene: late Saturday afternoon, day of the show. Clay sits at his desk, googling the name of the theater, the name of the performing group, the name of the show. A look of bemusement crosses his face. He rejigs his search terms to no avail–he’s just finding links to the Funsavers advertisement. “Tara?” “Yeah hon, what’s up?” “It’s weird, but I can’t find anything about this show online.” “Huh.”
Cut to car: Clay and Tara are driving along route 76, following the GPS to the show’s advertised address. “Hey Tara.” “Yeah”. “Yeah, as I was saying earlier, I couldn’t find anything about this show online. I’m wondering what that means. Maybe it’s a college group putting on a show?” “Hmmmmm. Could be. I saw a sign for a college back there.”
Clay looks around, noting that the GPS has led them into a residential neighborhood. “I mean, what are we gonna do if this is some kind of show in somebody’s living room? Are we gonna stay?” Tara looks at Clay in disbelieving amazement, clearly shocked that he would even ask such a silly question. “Uhhh–hell yes!?!”
And so it was that we found ourselves on a wide street of cute, well-maintained homes in the East Falls/Germantown section of Philadelphia. I spotted many street-parked vehicles (noticeable in a residential area with actual driveways and garages), and the GPS confirmed our arrival–indeed, it looked as if show was happening in someone’s home. We went to the front door of the designated address and stepped into a tastefully decorated living room, yet we had almost no time to absorb our surroundings–we were face to face with a large group of perhaps 20 seated guests occupying a variety of couches, folding chairs, and stools. The air, if I’m not mistaken, had the unmistakable flavor of a comfortable Saturday night after-dinner social event . . . and if my Jedi powers have any credibility, there was a distinct groupmind vibe of “Soooo…. who exactly are these people who just came rolling into our party?”.
We were greeted by the show’s friendly, 50-something author and lead organizer (not to mention host, homeowner, and ticket-taker) and he clarified the situation–he and some friends had put together a little live-for-stage radio drama, listed the show on Funsavers…. and then forgotten to check on ticket sales. They’d been expecting to host a show for their close friends–and now an audience was pouring in the front door. It was clear that we weren’t the only unexpected guests–each time the living room door would open, a mild panic would visibly wash over the host and his staff. Chairs were running short, the living room was nearly full . . . and nobody knew how many more strangers would be showing up. Tara and I “helpfully” killed time by moving out of the way and scarfing some gratis cheese and crackers in the dining room (it seemed?! like the food was for public consumption, and since nobody told us to stop . . . I’m calling it a win!). Meanwhile, while the organizers sorted things out by gathering chairs from every room in their house (an impressive showing, considering final audience was probably around 40 people) and eventually got us settled in the front row, only a few feet from the performers themselves.
The show was unmistakably modeled after the Prairie Home Companion style of radio humor, including all the familiar low-budget sound effects and comically overdone accents. The play’s protagonist (voiced by the homeowner and host) was a guttural southern hermit who’s snowstorm preparations are interrupted by a cavalcade of unwanted guests. Hijinks ensue as a highflautin couple of wealthy socialites (think the millionaire and his wife on Gilligan’s Island) get stranded in the woods, a well-meaning neighbor drops by to check on (read: annoy) the ornery hermit, and a bumbling pair of policemen disrupt the house in a search for some fleeing desperados. The plot was exactly as wacky as these varied characters suggest, yet the ego of the performance never rose above the source material itself–in other words, it felt like the show’s greatest strength lay in its willingness to settle for an evening of humble, old-timey entertainment. It didn’t hurt that the entertainment was staged as a light after-dinner diversion, yet each of the actors brought a welcome degree of comedy, timing, and skill to their individual roles.
Accordingly, the post-show Q&A confirmed that these players were not mere hacks who’d simply thrown together a workable script; many of the players turned out to be members of professional theater groups, educational organizations, musicians, or retired aesthetes. The ages of the players ranged from mid-50s up to one or two venerable 80-year-olds (with one exception of a 20-something theater student), giving the show an appropriate tinge of down-home, livingroom fun. The oldest of the players was particularly endearing (delivering his lines in the delightfully nasal, cartoonish voice of an elderly man), while the foppish millionaire generated a good deal of warm laughter with his great timing and over-the-top voice acting. In general, all members of the group seemed rehearsed and confident in their roles, thereby allowing the show to exceed simple amateurism and succeed as an evening of low-budget comedy slapstick.
Overall, I’d give this $10 show ($13 with fees) a thumbs-up in terms of bravery, simple aspirations, and the unique living room ethos. The script and presentation weren’t attempting high art, and the venue’s happy disorganization was unexpected (for everyone involved)–but neither of these issues prevented me from enjoying the 90 minute reading. In the future, it would be fair to ask the hosts to limit their ticket sales, to consider a more manageable seating arrangement, and perhaps offer some advance clarity regarding the preshow snacktime (i.e. are we allowed to come early and eat your crackers?). In any case, the evening was definitely memorable, and even funny–and in the end, I’ll always vote for a unique experience such as this one.
My wonderful husband, wanting to plan a date night out, suggested we go to a Philly Funsaver event described as a live performance of a radio show – a la Garrison Keillor/ A Prairie Home Companion. He purchased tickets and then attempted to find some information about the company listed. On the way to the event he pondered his inability to find more information on the company and venue, even wondering aloud “what if this is in someone’s house? Do we stay?”
As we parked the car and approached the address we saw a large Victorian home, and were promptly received into a living room full of a variety of chairs and individuals. I nervously stood in the foyer, unsure where to place myself. Our gracious host happily and quickly realized their Funsaver promotion had resulted in a record number of patrons for their event and rapidly pulled even more chairs from every nook and cranny to seat the audience. Another pleasant surprise was a table full of delicious cheeses and crackers, in addition to a variety of beverages. Soon we were placed in new found chairs to enjoy what felt like an inviting and homey event.
The cast urged us to close our eyes as they were about to begin the live radio show. I was a bit prejudiced at the outset, suspecting that this might turn out to be something of a Little Rascals ‘Let’s put on a show!’ type of event- but my fears were removed when I heard the rich vocal tones of one player (possessed of a beautiful operatic voice), and witnessed the skillful vocalization of numerous characters by the show’s host and author. The author/performer also performed skillful sound effects such as a door creaking and a dog barking, all these simultaneous to his character acting.
In terms of a plot summary, the play took place in a rural Southern town where a large snowstorm was about to begin. The main character was a backwoodsy, reclusive, dog-owning gentleman, a simple man who was merely trying to prepare his supper while he is repeatedly interrupted by a nosey neighbor, trapped travelers, a damsel in distress and the local police. The script was well-written and executed.
The Q&A at the end of the event provided additional information about the players – such as their ‘day’ jobs, hobbies and genuine interest in the quality of their presentation. Thank you to Clay for sharing another fun evening with me as we enjoyed the hard work and creativity of fellow Philadelphians!