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The Enormous Radio

by wordman67 

Posted: 09 May 2003
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Summary: In 1948 New York City, an ambitious young go-getter buys a radio set that allows him to hear the secret (and scandalous) goings on in the apartments around his, with catastrophic results.

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Richard Brown at 11:44 on 19 August 2003  Report this post
Had time to read only the first two scenes. Great idea! and I enjoyed some of the dialogue but I struggled a bit with the formality of the speeches. OK, it's set a few decades ago, and I think you've done very well to avoid modernisms, but I couldn't quite imagine the words being spoken convincingly on stage. Maybe this is why I had difficulty believing that Jim and Jack would come to blows quite so swiftly - it seemed that extreme politeness collapsed into incivility over very little. I think that some of the reservations I had might have been ameliorated had I known how you see the play being interpreted. It could be a very formalistic period piece but it could also be played as farce. Your summary made me think it is intended to be pretty serious - but is it? I'd be very interested to hear what others think. I wonder if I am stupidly missing a trick or two here? Richard.

wordman67 at 14:49 on 19 August 2003  Report this post
Hello Richard,
The piece is basically intended as a farce. If not out-and-out farce, then certainly a heightened tone (definitely not standard kitchen-sink naturalism). I realize that the synopsis doesn't give you a clue as to the tone of the piece, indeed making it seem a more somber, moralistic play (chalk this up to my weakness at writing descriptions of my work). It is about an obssessive, success-driven man, who takes the most trivial events far too seriously, while almost ignoring the real catastrophe right under his nose. Please read more and let me know your thoughts on the total piece.

Tim Darwin at 19:54 on 30 November 2003  Report this post
Ken, I don't understand why this play hasn't attracted more comment, I have read it through twice now and think it is wonderful! I do agree with Richard's comments about the ambiguous tone in the opening scene, though the 'farcical' elements do emerge very clearly over the piece. The use of the Announcer is excellent, tells us we are going to do some of the magic things that only theatre can really do. And farce, of course, is an extremely serious business, and at its best (as I feel this is) reaches the delights of true dark comedy. Well done!

I love the era, and feel you have caught the atmosphere just right: post-WWII optimism tipping into the time of the Alger Hiss trial, I can feel the McCarthyism that is just around the corner. There were one or two places where I wasn't quite sure if the idiom was current in 1948 (such as "off" for "kill"; I've lived too long overseas to be sure about my US slang, I honestly don't know if this is right or not), and a few speeches were perhaps a bit of a mouthful, but nothing that the actors wouldn't flag for some minor re-touching. Greatest strength here, to me, was the mood of dark menace bubbling under the shiny optimism of high tech (the radio), and the Jungle Laws underpining business (getting the Old Gold account). The disconnect between the characters understanding of themselves and their actions in the world is very well developed, giving the play great pace and genuine drama.

What is the state of play with this one? Have you been seeking a production? It certainly deserves an audience.



wordman67 at 21:12 on 30 November 2003  Report this post
Thank you for those kind words. It appears that you really understood what I was getting at: the confluence of several cultural trends in post-war US: anti-communist paranoia, dog-eat-dog competitiveness in the business world, and the rise of an acquisitive, materialistic generation. As for the production history of the play, it's been done in a small production several years ago here in New York. I would love to see it done again elsewhere, but since it's technically a one-act, the odds are against it---theatres usually only consider full-length plays, unless you approach them with a evening's worth of one-act plays. Another factor to consider is the question of rights: This is based (though very loosely) on a John Cheever short story of the same name. I don't know what Mr. Cheever's estate would have to say about this version of his tale---it takes quite a few liberties, and in fact has little to do with the story as written, beyond the fact that a man can hear his neighbors through a magic radio. I suspect that if they were to hear about this play being produced, they would object in some way, or at least ask me to change the title (which I've considered, just to avoid this kind of trouble, but I can't seem to think of a better one). If you know of any UK theatre that have an interest in this kind of material, I would appreciate any suggestions. Thanks again!

Tim Darwin at 10:35 on 01 December 2003  Report this post
Ken, one-acts do find productions, but it ain't easy (what is?); wish I could advise, but I just don't know enough on this score.

Also, as you say, "based on" can get tricky, too. I don't know the Cheever story so I'm not sure what relationship to it your play stands. Two thoughts occur, which may be of no use at all in which case ignore. 1. Are there any other Cheever stories which have tempted you as a springboard for another one act? If so, and it used the same actors as this piece, you might have a full bill to offer? But you really do need to talk to the Cheever estate--who knows, they might even be helpful? (I do dream sometimes!) 2. It's generally a bad idea to 'stretch' a one-act, but there might be a case for that here, in so far as you have already gone some way from the original tale, and have developed a pretty neat theatrical device in the listening radio (reality radio long before bloody reality TV!), and you have some very big themes. But it's often a mistake to go back to a script and try to re-work it, its generally better to move on to the next one; but who knows here?

The other option which occurs is one I'd advise against for this particular piece: one-acts adapted for TV. In the case of The Enormous Radio , my own feeling is this wouldn't work; the device of two characters listening to the radio while two others are on stage enacting the scene that is heard is pure theatre and just wouldn't translate well--but that's just my opinion.

Good luck with all your endeavours--playwrights seem like an endangered species in this forum, I wish you all strength and success!



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