If you can appreciate a mammoth moonstruck monkey with a tinny growl, you might stretch your ears in the direction of the Violet Crown Radio Players' King Kong
Reviewed by Robert Faires, Fri., Dec. 9, 2005
The Hideout, through Dec. 10
Running Time: 1 hr, 30 min
You can't see the jungle on this remote, uncharted Indonesian island. You can't see the Tyrannosaurus rex crashing through the tropical undergrowth to make a meal of the starlet from New York City. And you certainly can't see the colossal ape easily the size of a four-story building who stands as the young woman's lone defender before this monstrous predator. But you can hear them, can hear the heavy tread of the thunder lizard as he approaches the gigantic gorilla, can hear its prehistoric reptilian roar, can hear the beastly bellow of the ape in reply, can hear their titanic struggle to the death.
Now, this aural duel of behemoths isn't exactly ear-splitting, the kind of sonic assault in the cineplex where you can feel the sound pressing hard on your chest and rattling your brain pan. To be honest, it's a little tinny, which may be partly due to the fact that it's being produced by a pair of actors growling and grunting into small megaphones. That's what you see as this battle takes place, which provides an amusing disconnect to the scene these performers are enacting, especially considering that the T. rex is being voiced by a performer in a vintage evening gown. But then that's part of the charm of this Violet Crown Radio Players adaptation of King Kong. It's so low-tech downright primitive in the way it achieves its effects: shoes thumping on a table to make footsteps, a glissando on a slide trombone to suggest a diving biplane, descriptive words to make an ape they call the Eighth Wonder of the World. In that respect, it's like the 1933 film, which brought Kong to fierce, tender life with something as simple as stop-motion animation.
The Kong-sized challenge facing VCRP in its new old-school radio version is the 72 years we've had of hearing and seeing the big ape. Those visuals and the way they were delivered by directors Merian C. Cooper and Ernest Schoedsack and animator Willis O'Brien have a lot to do with what made this Big Apple Beauty and the Beast tale a classic. Mark Finn's script, drawn from a novelization that Delos W. Lovelace based on the original screenplay, leans heavily on prose descriptions put in the mouths of the main characters to "show" us what's happening. That leads to the occasional creak of Old Man Exposition, but fortunately the production's leads are nimble enough with narration to make it fly by. Deneen Frazier makes a winning Ann Darrow, intelligent and resourceful with a kind of Midwestern pluck that serves her well on this adventure. You can see how she draws the attention of Jack Driscoll, voiced by Christian Huey as an intrepid straight arrow, wading into danger when necessary because it's the thing to do, but with a shy streak where women are concerned. Roger Frazier lacks some of the edgy drive that propelled Robert Armstrong's Carl Denham on film, but he has more than a touch of Barnum in him, the smooth flourish of the showman with an attraction to end all attractions.
Although Finn as director keeps the show moving along briskly, there isn't much urgency in this Kong. The sense of danger and wonder that pervades Skull Island is underplayed; on opening night, it had an almost casual feel. Still, when the company hits one of the show's action set-pieces, it comes to life like O'Brien's animated ape. The Foley work by Monica Ballard, Abbey Windham, and Lisa Jasak the aforementioned begowned dinosaur vocalist grows lively and rises to the challenge of creating jungle throwdowns and a skyscraper's last stand. There's nothing quite like watching Finn roar in his megaphone as Kong, then grab the slide trombone to sound the biplane shooting down the ape he's portraying. If you need surround sound to feel this story, you'd best forego this for Mr. Jackson's new screen version. However, if you can appreciate a mammoth moonstruck monkey with a slightly tinny growl, you might stretch your ears in VCRP's direction.