It was a dark and not-so-stormy night. A night desperate for deception. Without a cloud in the sky, I turned to a different kind of cumulonimbus: a sound cloud. I hit play on Theatre in the Dark’s A Matter of Red Herrings and found myself in the streets of a rainy 1920s Chicago. This 80-minute audio play by Greg Garrison harkens back to the crime novels that set the standard for fiction’s greatest detectives. Directed by Corey Bradberry, A Matter of Red Herrings cheerfully introduces Detective Stainless Steal to a prestigious line of fictional Chicago sleuths.
I went into Moby Dick in the Dark (adapted and directed by Cory Bradberry) mostly oblivious, knowing little about the plot or characters of Moby Dick other than what I’ve absorbed through cultural osmosis. I was very excited, as I’d edited two previous reviews we published about Theatre in the Dark productions — I was intrigued by the company’s approach to all-audio, live Zoom theatre, and wanted to see what the hype was about. I logged into the Zoom waiting room and, according to the company’s recommendation, made myself a hot drink and found a comfortable, dark corner to sit in.
There is something very primal and exciting about a live audio-only classical tale of risk and adventure — and without all the flair of in-person theatre, a stripped-down, barebones approach to a famously overhyped text is an enormously clever idea. The sound design and original music from Nick Montopoli do a lovely job of setting the mood, with some minimalist violins and drums, the evocative and harsh crashing of ocean waves, the textured creaking of wooden ship planks, and the shrieking of seagulls. The adaptation from Cory Bradberry aptly and succinctly condenses the story into something listenable. In its original iteration, the book (I’m told) contains many long, meandering explanations that are only tangentially related to the plot — and here, they are either cut entirely or reduced to a few essential sentences. At only 90 minutes, I can only assume this is a tight adaptation of Herman Melville’s gargantuan classic.
Wally World, written by Issac Gómez and co-directed by Lili-Anne Brown, is a two act radio play produced by Steppenwolf Theatre. The show revolves around employees at the fictional superstore Wally World (akin to another actual large corporation with a similar name), who face the complicated tension and stress of having to work on Christmas Eve. While the store continues to be in complete chaos on the front end, things behind the scenes are just as bad if not worse as the store manager’s position of power is threatened and challenged throughout the hard workdays.
Wally World tries to give the realistic perspective of what it’s like for employees of a large company to be working over the holidays… least to say, it’s not ideal. If you’ve ever been forced to work retail during the holidays, this show is certain to bring memories flooding back. Beyond a reach for authenticity in what it’s like to work retail for a large corporation, this play seeks to ask poignant questions about capitalism, activism, harassment, white supremacy, and labor exhaustion. Wally World’s ideals are similar to other plays like Lynn Nottage’s Sweat or any similar “kitchen sink drama” that involves a variety of diverse characters who get chances to shine in beautifully written monologues about their internal struggles.
I sat in my living room with my candles burning, lights dim, and a warm sugary cup filled with flavored tea, as suggested by the production team, and intently listened to the Theatre In The Dark’s A Christmas Carol. In this 70 minute live audio play, I was whisked away into the inhospitable world of Ebenezer Scrooge, guided by only my imagination and a team of talented actors and audio engineers .
Western culture is obsessed with adapting different versions of A Christmas Carol throughout the years, whether through the means of big spectacle plays, large budget films, or even comic books. However, as I’ve grown I’ve found that with every passing year I somehow still love this tale for its striking relevancy even as the holidays and I become more estranged from one another — as I’ve grown older and more cynical, and as they’ve grown more commercialistic and vapid year by year. This A Christmas Carol stays true to the same classic holiday ghost story written by Charles Dickens that has lived on for hundreds of years. This production doesn’t try to change the words, reimagine, or re-adapt the original because it doesn’t need to. It only strips down the well-known story to create a complex radio play that feels like a thrilling tale told around a fire. Theatre In The Dark even encourages its audience to have virtual listening parties for the performance to allow communal connection with others.
A War of the Worlds adapts H.G. Wells’ classic tale of extraterrestrial invasion for the present day with a production designed for this new era of digital performance, inspired by the legendary 1938 Orson Welles broadcast. Theatre in the Dark’s hallmark style expertly translates a thrilling new piece originally planned for in-person performance to a purely audio medium. Rather than sitting in a darkened space with other theatergoers, audiences are invited to curate their own “dark and cozy” environment, pick up a drink, and listen in.
Set in and around modern-day Chicago, A War of the Worlds documents a battle for the planet between Earth forces and an invading Martian army. The script begins in retrospective, as The Professor (Ming Hudson) combs through artifacts left behind by a married couple separated while trying to flee the area. Science journalist H.G. Wells (Mack Gordon) and photographer Isabel Wells (Elizabeth McCoy) each capture world-ending events, described in gripping detail to the audience listening from home. This live virtual audio drama, co-authored by Corey Bradberry and Mack Gordon (and directed by Bradberry), skillfully adapts the novel with captivating language that matches the production’s renowned predecessors.