Welcome witches and warlocks,
I had the great pleasure of attending the recent production LIGHTS OUT IN THE HERMIT’S CAVE and figured I would offer up some thoughts for my fellow theater enthusiasts. To best describe the conceit, I will turn to the official press release:
“From the airwaves of the 1930s & 40s to the stage, we present LIGHTS OUT IN THE HERMIT’S CAVE. This is a live double feature performance of radio plays from two classic radio horror shows.”
“Everything old is new again,” seems to be the adage for our times. I mean, how much 80s inspired media do we really need? While this production stems from the idea of recapturing a bygone era, it at least jumps us back a solid seventy or eighty years for its source material. By using lesser known radio plays as the jumping off point, this production already has a new feel to it because we as the audience do not really know what to expect.
The first real surprise for me was the fact that the scripts from the shows are actually completely acted out. Many live radio shows I have seen in the past have consisted of the actors standing in front of microphones and reading off their lines in character, but here the cast made full use of the small room. This proved a welcome change that set this production apart from prior radio plays as we had full on performances with a minimalist set to bring the stories to life.
Of course, not having a microphone did lead to one problem I had with the performance: the sound. This was really only an issue during the beginning of the first story where the cast did not seem to realize how loudly they needed to project their voice to reach the back seats. I was even seated close to the front, but still found myself straining to hear certain lines. The actors must have realized this was an issue as later on during the first tale they did begin to speak louder and by the second story it was a non-issue.
The cast was quite good in their roles as they managed to lay the melodrama on just enough to make it amusing, without going campy. This is less evident in the first story, but comes through very nicely in the second, more interesting, tale. Brendan Weinhold and Katie Streifel are the two standouts in the cast as one gets the meatier, creepier parts while the other gets to be the bubbly hostess playing opposite Kristen Glen’s version of Wednesday Addams. The two hostess concept is especially endearing as it gives more personality to the show and lets the audience in on the fun of the proceedings.
The scripts for both radio plays involve a host of sorts, but these characters either were never that interesting to begin with or did not age well over the past seventy plus years. Douglas Hampton faithfully reads both parts, though neither was particularly memorable. I am curious if that is down to the writing (which it seems to be from what I heard) or if a different voice for these long gone hosts could make these brief segments more notable.
As briefly mentioned above, the second story in the double feature is much stronger than the first. The opening tale does manage to be pretty good by the end, but this is mostly down to the cast and a dark implication in their performances that may not have translated to radio all that well. The second story stands the test of time really well so having the actors play it out only helps to heighten the already solid script. It does help that the second tale had a bit more of a sense of humor inherent in its conceit which was furthered by the late, pointless though amusing, twist that I am sure shocked listeners at the time.
Speaking of the radio conceit, I greatly appreciated that they had live foley happening on the stage. Seeing them dangle confetti in a fan to imitate a car motor or operate a turn crank wind machine really brought the whole thing together. I hope that in future productions they manage to keep this up and continue adding different sound effects to their repertoire to keep up the idea of us, as the audience, watching a live radio play.
All in all, this is a fun, small production that brings life the feeling of sitting in a radio studio of yesteryear. There are a few hiccups along the way, but they are easy enough to fix and my quibbles are far outweighed by the strength of the cast. Fans of modern radio podcasts like The Thrilling Adventure Hour, the more well-known radio plays of the past, or those who just want to see some solid performances should give this a look.
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