On Air Off!
nytheatre.com review by James Comtois
August 15, 2007
On Air Off! plays like a slightly incomplete episode of The Twilight Zone if Rod Serling was still alive to write it today. Although it ends very abruptly (as did many Twilight Zone episodes), this is an enjoyably nostalgic romp through radio history.
At a radio station (WKEY) in 1953, three announcers and a technician deliver the news, sing jingles for toothpaste, and perform a live episode of "Kenneth Berry: Private Eye." During the broadcast, they're interrupted by an onslaught of static and broadcasts from the future, ranging from promos for monster truck rallies to hip-hop songs to Nixon's resignation speech to AC/DC's "Back in Black" (and everything in between).
At first, the confused foursome tries to figure out what they're hearing. Then, after Harold the technician offers a satisfactory sci-fi explanation for what's happening, they wonder what to do with this unlikely turn of events. Do they use this information about the future to better themselves and serve mankind, or do they exploit it to get rich?
Co-writer/directors Adam Lerman and Danny Tieger (who both also act in the piece) have created an incredibly fun show that works both as a visually pleasing stage play and aurally fascinating radio play. The combination of the excellent sound design by Lerman and live foley sound effects (including Tieger punching a head of lettuce to pieces to simulate the sound of a fist fight) is one of the things that make this show so enjoyable.
Also, Tieger's ability to deploy multiple voices in such a short time as the announcer Buzz is also very amusing to watch and hear. Lerman is hilarious as the nerdy yet deadpan Harold, clearly channeling Martin Starr's "Bill" from Freaks and Geeks. Emily Spalding plays the announcer and voice actress Evelyn as if she's straight out of a 1950s romantic comedy. Matt Chester is also amusing as the smug and incompetent leading man Charlie.
The set, from carpentry by Josh Miller, and costumes, by Patty Pawliczak, immediately evoke the time when the Golden Age of Television was beginning to eclipse Radio's Golden Age.
However, I definitely wanted more. The play ends—when the studio workers figure out what they're hearing and begin contemplating the ramifications—just when it feels like it should get started. This show has a very fun premise filled with a lot of possibility, so it is a shame that its creators didn't do more with it.
Despite the play's hasty and slightly unsatisfying ending, On Air Off! is a great deal of fun.