Film Is Evil: Radio Is Good
nytheatre.com review by Matt Freeman
February 16, 2006
Ian W. Hill’s production of Richard Foreman’s text called Film is Evil: Radio is Good takes place primarily on the stage. That, alone, is so meta that it could make ones brains ooze out the ears.
But, lo and behold, through the magic of some ambitious direction, Film is Evil: Radio is Good becomes abundantly clear as a sort of mock-debate, and uses the witty-cum-wandering Foreman language to create a palpable sense of whimsy. Uses of film, music, silence, and light all become woven into the fabric of the piece's inherent struggles.
The struggle presented here, is between Radio and Film. The setting places one side, Radio, at a table adorned with party hats and well-groomed bourgeois guests. The other side, representing Film, is a table adorned with ragtag bits of detritus. Its sole practitioner is a character named, in Hill’s version, Ian Hill (played by Peter Bean). The other side is led by Moira Stone, a sort of fascist temptress, whose issues with the medium of film seem to come both from personal animosity, and some sort of Higher Power... perhaps “Radio Richard.” All the cast members use their own names onstage, expressing, in its way, how theatre is entirely different from either of the mediums in question.
Describing the comings and goings onstage would be a bit like describing an action sequence on film: you sort of have to see it. People talk in microphones, film is projected on a large raised canvas, a large two-dimensional egg is broken... you get the idea. Or at least, you will if you see this often philosophically challenging piece.
What struck me, immediately, is that Radio is a medium that you’d expect Hill (or Foreman, or both) to support above film. The arguments against film in this piece are hard to deny: Film captures things as they are and leaves little room for the imagination. Radio allows the listener to use their own mind, projecting an image beyond verisimilitude.
The question of Film is Evil: Radio is Good seems not to be, in truth, whether either is superior to the other, but in fact, whether the debate is worth having. There are images of fascism throughout the piece (two young women in military garb work in support of the Radio Tribe), which denote that placing absolutes, or even expressing the superiority of one form of expression over another, closes down debate, and at the very least, makes a fetish of what is denied. The physical representation of one side winning over another (the “end of film”) is expressed as something tragic. The resolution, you may well find, speaks worlds to a culture that is immersed in these sorts of artistic and cultural debates, awash in noise. It’s also interesting in current context: Foreman’s own latest foray is a first venture into the use of film himself.
The cast is uniformly excellent, especially Alyssa Simon, Ms. Stone (whose delivery of the words “Cleveland, Ohio” actually made me laugh a little too loud), and the deadpan Peter Bean as Hill’s avatar.
Suffice to say, I heartily recommend a trip out on the “L” train to see director Hill’s work at the increasingly essential Brick Theater. It’s a rare play that presents three of the foremost mediums of our storytelling (Radio, Theater and Film) in such brilliant and evocative contrast.