RecommendedRadio drama was a distinct art form in the middle of the 20th century, and Tanya O’Debra’s Fringe show, Radio Star, evokes that evocative mode of storytelling, complete with sound effects, with a distinctly modern filter. All by herself onstage, seated at a table with an old-fashioned radio microphone and surrounded by devices to replicate doors opening and closing, footsteps approaching and disappearing, cigarettes lighting, bodies falling and more, she gives creates “The Iron Lung Radio Hour.” That title is the first tip that this particular noir drama might have a few twists that don’t quite belong in the 1940s.
Although she looks like a demure gal from the day — dressed in a fitted burgundy suit with black-trimmed lapels, her dark hair pulled up and a slash of hot red lipstick —O’Debra has a whole cast of voices that emerge.
Mostly we hear from Joe McKitrick, a gravel-voiced “private dick” with a penchant for sexist remarks who’s hired to solve the murder of a man who invented the “Snuggie” (the blanket with sleeves). But there’s also the sexy widow and her slobbering “manservant,” the victim’s saucy secretary, McKitrick’s disdainful receptionist, an Irish police commissioner and a seemingly dimwitted neighbor. The 60-minute show tells a predictable story of murder and double-crossing with the detective putting together the pieces while narrating what’s happened.
But O’Debra, also the playwright, has made the piece both more self-aware (McKitrick’s “internal monologues” are occasionally overheard by other characters and he wonders if he said things out loud or with his “inside mouth”). When a character is challenged after asking for a cigarette when she earlier said she didn’t smoke, her quick, sardonic reply is, “It’s the 1940s, you twit. Even babies smoke.”
The tale is also full of wryly-stated sexual innuendo (one hapless character is described as “useless as a fishnet condom”) and double entendres that are purely and obscenely 21st century. It starts with McKitrick’s unsubtle advances to widow and then the secretary (he’s not afraid to say “fuck” and does so frequently), but his libido takes an even more unexpected turn when he and the police commissioner banter about private matters.
O’Debra breaks up the drama with several tongue-in-cheek radio ads with recorded musical jingles; they sound like the period, but the products are beyond absurd. All this is delivered with distinct deliberation and quick wit. She is both a virtuoso performer and a clever writer. I would have liked a little more diversion in the performance — a newscast, perhaps, or something else to vary the pace — but the sold-out audience was with her every step of her sound-effect shoes.