Calgary Fringe – Radio:30 – Review

Radio 30

Radio: 30

August 3, 4, 5, 6, 8 and 9, 2013

Lantern Church Gym

http://see.calgaryfringe.ca/events/404-radio-30

“Ever have one of those days? Ever wonder why.” These are the opening lines of a radio spot that Ron, a commercial voice actor, must master in Chris Earle’s Radio: 30. They are also a prophetic clue about what is to become of poor Ron during the taping of said commercial.

Ron is the successful ‘go to guy”’ when it comes to voice overs. He has the sound clients are looking for these days – the warm, friendly sincere sales pitch. Ron delivers a commercial like he’s talking to a best friend. It’s easy work he says, just half an hour at most and then he’s done for the day. The best part is that he makes more in that half hour than most people make in a day. So yeah, life is pretty good for Ron. Except he doesn’t actually have a best friend. Or he did but then he slept with his wife and there went that. And oh yeah, the great job he has? Well Ron knows that he’s simply the flavour of the month and soon enough he will be replaced by the next guy with the newer sounding pitch. Just like he replaced the guy before him.

We learn all of the messy details in between takes as Ron sits in a sound booth waiting for his technician Mike to give him feedback on his attempts and/or make changes to the script. Along the way we learn some tricks of the trade like how not to make breath sounds when recording and how when you smile your voice automatically sounds happy regardless if you are or not. Good tools for radio work, but for Ron they are also good tools for dulling the pain and stress he’s feeling. Turns out the easy-going warm and friendly sales pitch guy is actually full of angst that is eating him alive. And we get to watch.

Unlike most Fringe shows where big characters and over the top charisma win the day, Earle uses restraint and intelligent mellowness in both his superb writing and excellent acting to tell his tale. Juxtaposed to the underlying angst that eventually causes Ron fall to pieces in the recording room, the calm delivery is eerily effective and satisfyingly difficult to watch.

Unsatisfying however was how difficult it was to watch this show was from a staging point of view. Arriving last-minute as one often does racing from one Fringe show to another, I was forced to take a chair in the bank of seats situated way over to one side of the theatre and behind Earle’s back. And while he tried his best to crane his neck around to give us better sight lines, we spent most of the show watching him from behind. It was actually a fellow patron who pointed out that all the director needed to do was position Earle facing out toward the audience to solve this problem for good and for everyone. Very true. With such a subtle vocal delivery it becomes crucial to see Earle’s face when the breakdown begins and while it didn’t limit the enjoyment of the show, it did damped the emotional impact somewhat. But if turning an actor around 90 degrees is my only quibble, well that my friends is still a Fringe show worth seeing.

RATING

For Fringeaholics – There is a reason this show was a huge hit when it premiered at the Toronto Fringe Festival in 1999. And there’s a reason that it’s a huge Fringe circuit hit again this year in its updated version. Good theatre lasts and good drama is a gem to find at a Fringe. You’ll want to make it part of your experience this summer. SEE IT

For the light Fringers – Dramas are hard to come by at Fringes where the comedy rules the day. And while a show about a breakdown may sound like a buzz kill from all the fun you’re having, this well-conceived show is worth taking a time out for seriousness. SEE IT

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