Theater archives

Reggie Watts Goes Wireless With Radio Play


Radio Play, Reggie Watts’s show at P.S.122, is something of a misnomer—the radio part anyway. Watts introduces the piece as based on the model of an old-time radio program, featuring “chills, thrills, and daffodils.” Yes, Watts and his co-creator Tommy Smith focus on audio elements (sound effects, spooky melodies, Watts’s looped and loopy improvised songs), but the piece doesn’t dismiss the visual.

The set, a collection of outmoded tech, designed and lit with eerie gloom by Seth Reiser, plays a significant role. Overhead projectors huddle against reel-to-reel tape decks. A film projector sports with a black-and-white television. I think I saw a Rolodex. The actors’ bodies also figure prominently, particularly Watts’s. A sturdy figure sporting a bow tie, Watts has the best head of hair Off-Broadway, a leonine mane so spirited and unruly it deserves its own cut of the box office.

Spirited and unruly come close to defining Watts’s ethos. Even his shows not explicitly labeled “variety hours” are just that, an unassimilated mix of different styles and forms. Here, bits include a campfire story, some fake cunnilingus, a set piece in which a woman summarizes the plot of Fatal Attraction, and recourse to cheap ’80s nostalgia via TV theme songs.

Watts, Smith, and director Kip Fagan haven’t assigned the piece any sort of structure. While Radio Play doesn’t require a plot, it might benefit from more tonal or thematic coherence. At present it feels a trifle long, even though it clocks in at just an hour, and more than a little self-absorbed, although the blissfully awkward curtain call excuses much of this indulgence. And you have to give it up for Watts, resplendent in his crisp shirt and suspenders. He’s an analog guy in a digital world, just trying to make some truly odd theater.