As a transporting experience to the golden heyday of radio, well, not so much. But as a gag for some rib-tickling humor, Liquid Radio hits the spot like only improvisational comedy can do, even when it’s bad, it’s good.
The concept is a solid one-it’s a 1940s radio station, just about to go live with a new episode of an audio theater serial, when we discover that the scripts have disappeared. What’s a radio show to do? Why, improvise! The company is directed by Stanley Morse, but the events that take place onstage are completely made up on the spot. While the genre is chosen at random, audience members get to throw out ideas on plot, characters’ names, and sponsors. As expected, the end result is a mishmash of clever ideas and miscommunication.
In this particular performance, the theme was “Adventure.” Much of the success of improv relies on its audience’s enthusiasm-an “applause” sign flashing onstage helps, and, of course, the audience’s energy feeds upon itself as the ideas start rolling. Within minutes, we had “The Mystery Train from Rainbow Gulch,” complete with an Irishman with a lisp named Patrick O’Brien (Chris Bonno), a detective named Guillermo Montoya (Brian Breiter), and his lovely ditzy assistant Daisy Lovefist (Kristen Trucksess). Robert Covarrubias as the mysterious Mike Mikael, and Travis Oates as the evil Dr. Franco round out the cast in what’s clearly going to be a wacky chase.
If it doesn’t start off confusing, it sure ends up that way, but the journey there is fun. Dave Cox acts as the show’s host, his pasted-on mustache peeling its way off. Along with his unpredictable narration are random squeaks and whistles from sound effects guy Jesse Mackey, and the well-executed musical accompaniment from Jonathan Green on the keyboard. With the cast, the troupe unfolds an incredibly convoluted tale with the silliest results- which, in this show, included a 7-foot-tall Russian, llamas, 1936 bathoscopes, and Beano: “The product that hates the Nazis.”
Perhaps one of the best parts of improv is watching the performer get completely flummoxed- it’s totally expected, and because there is no fourth wall, everyone can laugh about it together. Stepping over each other’s lines, forgetting details (Bonno’s Irish lilt does a disappearing act more than once) and shifting plotlines (within seconds, the power of the missing golden miniature train jumps from “It makes anything large shrink” to “It understands your insides” to “Doesn’t it also make money?”).it’s all part of the experience. A talented cast like this can giggle at itself, and twist the moment into something even funnier by openly poking fun at itself.
Not all the jokes can be winners, especially when the humor gets forced into the cheap joke over more clever options: Bawdiness can be great, but it’s often the easy way out; emulating an existing character is amusing at first (Oates’ Franco had a definite Dr. Evil twist), but it’s not until it develops unique quirks that it really takes off. Fortunately, this cast clearly has some experience under its collective belt, so even the most out-of-control moments have a bit of polish and flair.