The future is on our minds a lot these days. The way fiction anticipates is really about today, and by default usually falls into the science fiction genre. Science fiction, more so than any other form of storytelling, is rife with thematic and metaphorical potential. Radio Gomorrah LIVE!, a new show by the Burying Beetles, returning to the Fringe Festival for the fourth time, is no different. Written by John Ray, directed by Michael Burnham, and presented at Nast UMC on the eastern edge of Washington Park, this irreverent and very R-rated 60-minute comedy is a stimulation overload that’s not always easy to follow. But it entertains nonetheless.
Like most futures this one is set in a post-apocalyptic, dystopic landscape. Pollution is rampant, the ecosystem is in shambles, and the poor get poorer while the rich get richer. Sound familiar? Kept in line by “convenience” microchips, three characters — foul-mouthed social dropout Rigo (Derek Snow), clueless Marxist Mueller (Dan Robertson) and compliant Typhoon (Keisha L. Kemper) — are the obligatory chased. Their pursuers, naturally, are a totalitarian government. With this premise, the format resembles that of an old-fashioned radial serial, a mad Prairie Home Companion-cum-Rocky Horror Picture Show, with the promise of a podcast continuation in the future. Highly interactive, the audience is invited to make sound effects on cue card command.
The tone is set early on: The cast of a dozen bombards patrons with a stream of consciousness as if some old radio is catching stray sound waves. Unfortunately, for the first 15 minutes, it’s hard to keep track of what’s going on or even what any of the names of characters are, since many actors play multiple parts. There are hints of separation between roles, such as headscarves and a delightful robot outfit made from old CDs and a sparkly tiara, but it’s inconsistent. By the halfway point, however, things settle in and a sense of conflict is established as the main performers unite, with Snow shining as a fed-up audience surrogate.
Even when the goings-on are overwhelming, the performers are game and move within the 360-degree, minimalist set with a brisk confidence and charm. The audience engagement isn’t as successful as it could be, with signs encouraging BZZZT and WHOOSH sounds having little effect, although one elderly gentleman in front of me certainly got in on the act with enthusiasm. That could be opening night kinks, and everyone laughed when they should have laughed and grooved on the vibe of exigency that the play was giving off.
From jokes about Dick Cheney to even more subtle winks with a character named Jane Galt, a nod to Ayn Rand’s objectivist magnum opus Atlas Shrugged, this is a show unafraid to take shots. The church locale made everything feel even more subversive, as if we were all getting away with something, especially when the play’s climax involving sadomasochistic prostate exams.
With an M.A. in English from Xavier University, Bart Bishop has been teaching composition for six years. He’s edited two published novels and loves ranting about movies and comic books. This is his third year of reviewing the Cincinnati Fringe Festival.