The host couple of a tacky morning talk show celebrate their 25th anniversary on the air as their show is cancelled, bombs fall, and the ghost of their electrocuted sound engineer terrorizes their circuits.
Written & performed by Conrad Bishop & Elizabeth Fuller
Directed by Conrad Bishop, music by Elizabeth Fuller
One-hour play; 1m/1w; unit set.
Produced by The Independent Eye, premiering Jan. 7, 1983, at Eye Theatre Works (Lancaster, PA). Touring 1983-89, with an extended run at Theatre X (Milwaukee, WI). Total of 31 performances.
Radio adaptation, 1987, broadcast on WXPN-FM (Philadelphia, PA).
—Jay Joslyn, Milwaukee Sentinel
Arresting performances . . . With a kind of rapport and rhythm reminiscent of the art of Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontaine, the couple bounces disjointed memories, dreams, regrets and fears between them as the limiting format of an hour of air time seals them away from reality.
The audience has to hang tight to the wisps of substance the couple allows it. But the strength and power of the performance is worth the audience’s effort.
In Burlington Lunch, a curtain raiser, Fuller performs an enthralling monolog in which a very lonely woman glories in her moment of triumph when spacemen paid her the honor of listening to her when no one else would.
—Douglas Keating, The Philadelphia Inquirer
Brilliant, strange and fascinating . . . The show is maniacal and surreal, an inspired dark comedy. Bishop’s and Fuller’s characters are radio cartoons, yet beneath their constant joking and crazy talk, they are sympathetic, suffering human beings. The show is too deliberately insane and incomprehensible in its details and presentation, yet it is ultimately sensible in its messages.
Much of the fascination of Action News comes from its effects. There are startling blackouts and fade-outs; static crackles from the microphones as nuclear emissions charge the air; electronic noises blare through the studio as the radio hosts fulminate futilely at a mysterious, unseen sound engineer named Carlos. When the bomb does fall on Pittsburgh, it is an impressive kaboom of sound and light.
—Carol Burbank, Philadelphia City Paper
The Independent Eye’s Action News adds another quirky voice to MTI, and I mean “voice” literally. Although they’re not dancers or even movement artists, Conrad Bishop and Elizabeth Fuller turn themselves into human puppets. Their radio drama for the stage shows two corney announcers at the end of their careers, and at the end of the world, and it’s odd, good, smart, scary stuff. . . .
Action News is the kind of lighthearted approach to armageddon that we’ve grown to expect from performance art. It’s funny, in the way falling down the stairs and realizing you’re not hurt can be funny. The story thumps through so many subplots that finally, when the world ends (bright white flashing lights and explosive static), we laugh just to make sure we’re still breathing.
The game is to figure out what’s real and who’s a ghost. At least three possible family histories are given for Harold and Rosalie, and finally how many children they had or whether they’re even married is up for grabs. The news veers between the real and surreal, with unidentified bombers dropping anything from office furniture to missiles on the Free World.
Everything but the end of the world is part of Harold and Rosalie’s shtick. Their puppet-like transformations are eerily lit and interrupted by squeaks and electric explosions. Finally, in unaccustomed post-bomb quiet, they wander through poetic perfect-world fantasies, which include dancing children and thin thighs, making them ghosts in the machine as much as Carlos.
The disturbing combination of poetry, nonsense and violent banality spoofs radio tripe and escapism quite successfully, and Action News’ final disintegration feels real. But moments of inspired hysteria are balanced by actions and sounds so stylized that they become theatrically meaningless—as if the performance, not just the radio show, were being driven along by some high-art, schizophrenic fugue.
The evening opened with a moving comic monologue, Burlington Lunch. Elizabeth Fuller plays Edna, a woman who has finally found someone to really listen to her, and the listeners happen to be Space Aliens. She’s selling her luncheonette and going out to look for them, but she is far from crazy. This monologue incorporates the poetic flights that sometimes sound so artificial in Action News, while staying wonderfully real.
A feeling of having been there, an empathy.
I remember “last days” of this or that—part panic, partly sad.
Emotion overcoming ability to go on, someone close carrying you through, humor’s rescue from sadness. The hope and promise of children.
To leave uplifted, to believe you can make it if you hold on.
Having been a broadcaster for 20+ years, I caught several inside jokes which could have been missed by people not connected with the industry. The absurdity of being “honored” by satellite feed to other cities/countries at the same time that the show is being cancelled. That rang true.
Never had a close encounter but loneliness in Burlington Lunch was easy to identify with.
The disconnected news flashes made me realize how trivialized news of events seem to become by the sheer volume of it. Perhaps also we become hardened or at best numbed to the horror of much of it—a survival technique?
The emptiness, then the abject fear, of the thought I may not conceive. (I finally did.)
If we can imagine the cataclysmic, we can imagine hope. Thank you for the epilogue. Like the “resurrection” scene in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, the ending redeemed the turmoil preceding it. Again, echoes of that play, childlessness—in Action News, are children destroyed before or after they live?—is one of the root causes of the protagonists’ misery. The flash/screechings/darkness were absolutely chilling.
Yes, the scene where they talk about the children at the dinner table saying they are dead, Rosalie’s reaction and feelings, and the Mr. Stubblefield character—my husband has a mysterious buddy he goes out wiht and I can’t go—that part really got to me.
Oh yes—I felt they were going to break out of the “broadcast” characters and start to deal with each other now that the show was over. I felt that they really had had those 2 children they talked about—was I right? I thought she spoke of being sterile and infertile to hide the pain and loss of their deaths—in a way it kept her from dealing with that. Did they really have children? And who was Carlos? Was he real?—or was he their souls haunting them over the loss of their children? I really felt for Rosalie. I think the show was a “mask” that kept them “normal,” and they couldn’t bear to think of being “just themselves,” but they did it.
Yes, when Rosalie was in despair I was uncomfortable, very uncomfortable because of a fear my life is meaningless.
Change is possible.