Running time: 2 hrs, 15 min
In front of the coincidentally appropriate starry-sky backdrop from the current State Theater Company production Women Who Steal, Salvage Vanguard Theater put on its weird, retro event The Intergalactic Nemesis, a staged radio serial set in 1933 and dense with tough-guy period slang on the order of "It's like this, see?" The show touched down Monday night, only to vanish on Tuesday as quickly as it had come. The six episodes of danger and adventure, taped live on both nights, should, however, return (dum-dum-dum) at an unspecified future time, for possible radio spots.
The script by Ray Colgan, Jessica Reisman, and Jason Neulander includes all the old standbys of the (until this week) all-but-defunct radio adventure genre: time travel, alien conspiracies, mind control, robots, a Scottish castle, a crack journalist, pro-American and pro-Earth platitudes, and a wrist computer -- everything but The Shadow. And if you think it would be hard on the attention span to watch seven people reading from a script and three people (led by skilled and aptly named Buzz Moran) doing live sound effects (aka "Foley Art"), just try to think of the last time you were in such a situation.
If for no other reason than sheer novelty, participation in the live taping of a radio show is fascinating as a remembrance of things past and (Neulander is right) historic in its own way. Though hard-won with the many minutes of required applause, we happy few will have the backstory when the tapes come out, and we alone will know how Moran and Co. made those squishy Martian sounds.
It doesn't hurt, either, to have cast some of Austin's finest. Lindsey Doleshal reprised her role from the fall play beautiful bodies as the wry hard-talker and, once again, she nailed it. Here, Doleshal took center stage as Molly Sloan, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, and she managed to add style even to such deliberately clunky lines as "Can't you get any more horsepower out of this bucket?" If anyone should ever stage the hit Mae West bio-drama Dirty Blonde in Austin, here's the girl for the lead.
As her telepathic assistant Timmy Mendez, Corey Gagne was all warbly-voiced, innocent sidekickitude. Salvage Vanguard co-artistic director Dan Dietz, whose Critics Table Award for Best Actor in a Comedy was announced between episodes on Monday (word came via cell phone set to vibrate), played Mysterion to the sinister hilt. David Sangalli won plenty of laughs with a variety of accents and dead-panned lines like "You wound me with your harsh epithets." Salvage Vanguard's other co-artistic director, Jason Neulander, helped out both as Narrator and the heroes' guide in Tunisia ("Ehye ave come to stop le madness."). Ben Willcott was leading-man sincere as Ben Wilcott (coincidence?), the earnest man from the future. Chad Nichols maintained an aloof air appropriate to his zombie and robot characters.
Production-wise, Intergalactic Nemesis boasted a few moments of expert synchronization -- one such had Sangalli, Nichols, and the Golden Arm Trio organ in an elegant harmony. On the script score, the show managed a few clever jokes, most of them stemming from the antiquity of mock-hysterical lines like "Not the mind-whammy again!"
So why did radio serials die out in the first place? The TV flicker? Weariness with the Hardy Boys school of dramatic overkill? There's no one answer, but in an age of Austin Powers, it's hard to believe -- and impressive -- that Salvage Vanguard has dared to play the radio adventure serial relatively straight. In Intergalactic Nemesis, people get locked in dungeons with every opportunity to escape, and with no snide commentary about how a gunshot to the head would have ended it right there. The show's sci-fi land of profound disbelief suspension features a refreshing dearth of irony, save for the actors' off-mike chuckling as they listen to their compatriots utter lines like "Jeez-Louise, it's a tight squeeze in here!"
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