‘Radio Free Emerson’ produced, not written, well
The play, written by Paul Grellong and directed by PAD faculty member Pannill Camp, tells the story of Al Gregory (junior Mitch Eagles), who returns to his New England hometown after a long absence to attend his father’s funeral. His mother, Marilyn (senior Joanna McNurlen), is going to sell the radio station that her late husband owned, but Al decides to host a memorial broadcast before she sells it. Instead of honoring his father, however, Al takes over the broadcast and starts sharing his interpretations of the teachings of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Al believes that following Emerson means living however you want to, regardless of what society teaches. Al’s program becomes a hit, but this hedonistic way of living has terrible consequences that unfold over the course of the play.
Eagles slipped easily into the role of the charismatic main character, and it is easy to want to believe his Al. Another highlight is senior Malcolm Foley, who plays Al’s old high school buddy Henry to a tee. Henry is a fairly simple character who just wants to please his wife Gina (senior Sasha Diamond) and be able to support her through his construction business, where he also acts as an architect. Foley’s crisp articulations make Henry’s sincerity completely believable.
The setup within the Hotchner provides a unique atmosphere. Already a long and narrow space, the seating arrangement, in which the audience sits on both horizontal sides of the stage, makes the space even narrower. On one end of the stage is the radio station, and on the other is a rotating set piece that acts as a porch or a living room, depending on which way it is turned. The audience is incredibly close to the actors throughout the show, making “Radio Free Emerson” very intimate.
The play was well-acted. When the thrilling climax occurred, I felt it within my gut. Perhaps the small space enhanced the experience for me, but I felt both literally and figuratively close to the action. However, I did not enjoy the play itself. Al’s twisting of Emerson to suit his own needs is self-indulgent and annoying. The disasters he causes make him almost impossible to like. I didn’t enjoy spending two hours with the character.
However, given the material the cast and crew had to work with, they did a wonderful job. I can see how “Radio Free Emerson” would appeal to people who find Al intriguing rather than annoying, so I would recommend it to those interested in theater.