KPBS AIRDATE: December 19, 1991
Garrison Keillor knows that good radio is fun to watch. So does Blackfriars Theatre. They’re back with an all new, improved version of last year’s runaway fund-raising hit, “More of the Laughing Buddha Wholistik Radio Theatre.”
A door slams. We hear footsteps approaching. And we see writers Burnham Joiner and Todd Blakesley close a tiny, six-inch door and hand-walk two shoes across a table. Need a rainstorm? Watch them spin a rain-drum and shake a metal thunder-sheet. Passionate kisses? They pucker up and slobber all over their own fists.
It’s the wonder and magic of a live old-time radio broadcast — simulated convincingly at the Bristol Court Playhouse downtown. Welcome to KBFT, which stands for Blackfriars Theatre — and its goofy sponsors: Sta-Tuff Mental Pads, the mind-numbing headpiece that “keeps your emotions fresh and above the din of daily life.” And Acquiesce Beauty Bar, that “reconstructs every cell of your outer epidermis.” Then there’s the Doom-Tip (tip, tip).. terrifying tales of your own imminent death, brought to you by Bristerton Markets. And you’d better shop there.
So, what’s the point of all this? Well, it’s a creative way to beef up the till at Blackfriars, a serious professional company that, like many other local theaters, is in serious financial straits. This imaginative idea worked like crazy last February. Advertising was sold to local businesses and individuals. You could buy space on the walls or time on the air, to call attention to yourself or your establishment. There are even on-air personals, the only one on opening night being from a family dog. You can buy 3-D radio glasses, various buttons and even the aforementioned Sta-Tuf Mental Pads. People were doing it, too. Everyone gets into the spirit of the thing.
Meanwhile, there are interspersed episodes of continuing dramas. The interminable dinner decision of a couple of smarmy, food-obsessed yuppies. “Crowded Lighthouse,” the serialized, hallucinatory mystery of the Coast Guard lighthouse-keeper on solitary duty in the mid-Atlantic, not-so-quietly going crazy, with the help of a lunatic lot of imaginary humans and animals. The satiric spoof of one woman’s meteoric rise to stardom from community theater to the pros. And then, the low-spot — which is almost all of act two — the unremitting, overwritten saga of “Chuck, King of Squirrels,” where woodland friends and foes fight the mounting plague of “human infestation.” The only funny part of that bit was the magical incantation, a trance-inducing repetition of the timeless French expression for “To each his own.” (“Chacun a son gout,” chacun a son gout…)
If that’s not your cup of humor, there’s undoubtedly something to crack you up from these three talented performers, especially the very versatile Allison Brennan and Paul Nolan, whose voice you may recognize from his KPBS humor-spots as part of the Euphonic Institute.
If you make a holiday pilgrimage to see this “Buddha,” you may not get enlightenment, but you will get a few good laughs.
I’m Pat Launer, for KPBS radio.
©1991 Patté Productions Inc.