The plot concerns what may be writer-producer Norman Arizona’s last episode of “Blue Coal presents the Soho Radio Hour.” Ratings are down and the network wants the show jazzed up. Tonight’s episode is “The Tears of Celeste,” an English cozy set in Sussex, which includes one actor playing twins. As one more performer was needed for this episode, Norman has hired someone new the night before. However, as he was quite drunk at the time, he can’t remember who he hired. When an unknown actor arrives clutching a mysterious backpack, all assume that he is the new member of the cast.
The problem with Richmond Shepard’s detailed direction is that it is too leisurely to create real tension. The radio play being performed, “The Tears of Celeste,” is clichéd enough to be a parody but it isn’t played that way. While the actors create specific character types, none of them seem sufficiently frightened either in the radio show or when the “mysterious actor” shows his true colors. While the author has the vocabulary of a radio show down pat, there is no sense of real authenticity. Though the evening is played for laughs, most of the jokes are too old to receive any reaction.
Best in the cast is Nate Steinwachs as Chubby Goldfarb, the sound man who performs all of the effects needed for the radio mystery, and is dressed in 40’s style with bow tie and suspenders. His colorful persona (don’t ask him to act; call him Chubby, not Mr. Chubby) goes a long way to suggest old-time radio. As producer/writer/actor Norman Arizona, Dan Burkarth successfully portrays the harried boss with high blood pressure who sees everything falling apart. Beth Griffith is amusing as the stage manager and performer who is actress-y even off-set.
Lisa Landino has the thankless role of a Croatian actress expected to play a British Hispanic policewoman, circa 1949. While Alexander Reed exhibits a few of the traits of his Italian actor Chicky Lorenzo, a pugnacious guy from the ‘hood who is wanted by the mob, he never fully gets inside of this well-worn stereotype. Filling in at short notice, Fergus Scully as the mysterious actor is deadpan intense but needs to be more threatening to make us believe that he is keeping the whole cast at bay.
While Radio Mystery 1949 has an interesting premise, it doesn’t go far enough as suspense theater or as a parody of this well-known genre.
Radio Mystery 1949 (through September 26, 2015)
Clarion Theatre, 309 East 26th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 800-838-3006 or visit http://www.BrownPaperTickets.com
Running time: one hour and 45 minutes including an intermission