To say that one has watched a piece of theatre may be an understatement once having listened to an hour long radio special, but to say that one has had the chance to watch a radio play seems like a bridge not yet crossed. Neverending Highway’s production of Dr. Frightful Presents: Dead Air, written by Grahame Kent and directed by Nathan Howe, removes the veil from the ever present facade that is the radio drama, and introduces its audience to a slightly new perspective on what it means to listen, as oppose to watch. Injecting its audience directly into the studio with fellow actors Burt White, Allison Katz, Jack McClellan, and Christopher Kramer (played by Grahame Kent, Danielle Spilchen, Morgan Murray, and Robert Grier), the play focuses on a group of voice actors, as they participate in a live recording set in the universe of the fictional Dr. Frightful.
In stepping into the theatre, what initially struck me was the lighting design, being the first aspect of the show that is visible to audience. The lighting design consisted of an orange/gold wash, giving off a sense of calm and security. As the show began, it was evident that this grounded presence was indeed intentional, as this lighting scheme was used during the scenes in which the cast was not recording. As they began recording, the lighting shifted drastically to a blue/red wash effectively mimicking the intended vibe of a low budget horror film.
In conjunction with the lighting was the music that accompanied the ever present cheesy atmosphere that was the dungeon of Dr. Frightful, consisting of an appropriately placed organ, played by the character of Christopher Kramer (portrayed by Robert Grier). This simple, yet effective, instrumentation was accompanied by outrageous sound effects throughout the show, produced using a range of bizarre and unconventional items, including lettuce (tearing human flesh), belt buckles (loading a shotgun), inflated balloons (gunfire) and more, to create sound effects both relevant to the narrative and outrageously funny to the audience.
While initially presenting a cast of extremely eclectic actors, it was even more rewarding to observe as these actors portrayed a wonderfully wide variety of characters themselves, ranging from the decrepit elderly to the wide-eyed youth. Of the four characters, the two that seemed to have stuck with me most throughout the performance were Burt White and Jack McClellan (played by Grahame Kent and Morgan Murray). Burt’s character seemed to have been driven by mystery, anchored by the enigma of his true voice and the humour behind all the other voices he omitted. Jack, on the other hand, provided a nice balance, sharing far too much of himself by letting his ego and his overconfident air get in the way of his job as an actor.
All in all, Dr. Frightful’s circus of lettuce and belt buckles proved to be a successful cabaret of equal parts insanity and horror, making for a show worth visiting this summer at the Toronto’s 2014 Fringe Festival.
Dr. Frightful Presents: Dead Air is playing at the Randolph Theatre until July 12th. For more information, visit http://nehighway.wordpress.com/current-productions/dr-frightful-presents-dead-air/.
Photo Credit: Damien Kent