- Courtesy Fine Arts Center
- Sammy Gleason earns big laughs.
Despite the fact that WYNOT Radio Theatre has been spoofing the golden age of radio for years (with this year marking its fourth residency at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center), this was my first opportunity to catch a performance. I had nothing but a vague idea of what to expect. Having seen a few podcasts recorded live on stage by other performance outfits, I thought it might look like that, maybe a notch above in the theatrics department, but WYNOT goes well beyond.
Cory Moosman, playing radio host Hal Van Patten, starts strong with a perfectly practiced "1940-something" radio voice, which sets you in the scene right away. Weaving in plugs for fake products like Hammer Cigarettes (advertised by an era-appropriate smoking baby), he introduces the crew, who take their seats behind old-timey microphones, where they swig from brown bottles or light up cigars.
There they stay the entirety of the performance, a blocking restriction that would normally make for a static play. The characters don't often touch, and they maintain eye contact with the audience rather than each other. But they craft an excellent illusion.
That illusion starts with the costumes. The silly hats and wigs they use to denote separate characters add the first layer of theatrics to what would otherwise be just a funny radio script. Whether it's Sammy Gleason playing the grandma with a breathy voice and a grey wig in an advertisement for sedative-laced cookies, or Frederick Delmarr (Janson Fangio) wearing a silver mask as The Last Buckaroo in one of the show's narrative segments, it's clear to see where the lines of each character are drawn — thanks partly to the costumes and partly to the hilarious voice work.
Notable mention in the voice department, Roxanne Valentin (Rosina Sonntag) alternates expertly between her roles: the sultry star of the silver screen, a stereotypical 1940-something housewife, a classic Western love interest and a whatever-it-takes gossip columnist. Then there's Moosman, who puts on a film-noir voice for Detective Rick Luger in the main storyline of "The Other Coast Caper," but also plays three characters with outrageous accents in The Last Buckaroo.
To extend the illusion, whenever characters in the narrative segments interact physically, the actors play it out. Some big thug (played to much amusement by Taylor Cardinal) grabs Rick Luger by the arm? Moosman jerks upward, holding his hand aloft as though Cardinal has actually taken hold of him. It feels realistic, even watching these actors from behind their microphones.
In spite of WYNOT's sophistication in the blocking and effects department, the humor can be irresistibly low-brow. It recalls vintage tropes and stereotypes — including the casually racist and casually misogynistic nature of these old shows. Using jokes that I won't spoil for you (since the surprise of them had my companion and I slapping each other laughing) they lampshade the fact that these old-timey radio writers were out-of-touch with everything outside of suburban middle America.
On top of self-aware meta humor, WYNOT doesn't shy from cheap sex jokes, outrageous sound effects and terrible puns, making liberal use of the word "dick" in the Detective Rick Luger segment and never missing a chance to play the double entendre for all its worth. It's a perfect blend of sophisticated and otherwise, making for a "radio" experience that is infinitely less pretentious and far more delightful than the podcast-esque performance I thought it would be.