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BWW Review: WRAITH RADIO is a Visceral, Intimate Sharing of Last Moments

WRAITH RADIO is the latest offering from Bottle Alley Theatre Company. An original script by writer and Bottle Alley artistic director, Chris Fontanes, WRAITH RADIO was immediately intriguing due to its premise. Two wounded soldiers barricaded in a small, windowless room face certain demise or perhaps are already dead. They broadcast their final moments hoping in vain to reach their fellow comrades. Time isn't linear in this reality and the women cannot be sure if what they're seeing is in fact happening. Is it their minds playing tricks on them or have the ghosts of their pasts come to haunt them in their final hours? Intricacies of the plot make further explanation impossible without giving away this play's secrets.

Entering Bottle Alley's non-traditional venue choice of BAM Academy, patrons file into a waiting area before the show begins. This remarkably feels like preparing to enter some sort of attraction and creates an atmosphere of anticipation as the small group quietly awaits further instruction. As show time approaches, Fontanes welcomes his audience and escorts them through another door into a small room. The unsuspecting theatregoers are immediately immersed in the world of WRAITH RADIO, literally stepping over actors, sprawled out on the floor in various states of consciousness. Music that is both familiar and foreign plays through speakers on a minimal set consisting of a table covered in old electronic equipment, a few lamps, and a laptop. The addition of simple blue lighting completes the sparse technical design that gives the feeling that these characters have been holed up for an undetermined amount of time.

This production was richly rewarded with Emily Rankin and Ellen Falterman as the enigmatic leading characters, Wraith and Star. As the women take turns speaking to their non-existent or perhaps malevolent audience, they exhibit a deep-rooted understanding of their roles as two individuals struggling to come to terms with the past and accept their future. This level of commitment makes their every move utterly fascinating to watch. When onstage together the actors' innate chemistry give Fontanes' words a consistent rhythm and provides brief moments of humor with their witty exchanges. Emily Rankin is gripping and heartbreaking as the title character, but the triumph goes to Falterman. In her final monologue, Star prepares for death by recording farewell messages to her family. This scene could play out indefinitely due to Falterman's heart-wrenching, yet realistic performance. Additionally, Falterman's English dialect is exceptionally impressive.

Credit must also be given to Rankin and Falterman's physical performances as two soldiers badly injured in combat. The weight of the pain and restricted movement endured by these characters was palpable. It is also important to note the top-notch special effect makeup designs used to create the characters' bloody, infected wounds. Being in such close proximity to the actors would have made it very easy to spot an unrealistic injury.

The men in this production, unfortunately, could not match the caliber of their female costars. Michael Rodriguez as Wraith's former love, Jessie and Tim Olivares as Death give passable performances in their scenes with the women, but never fully realize their characters. Paired with lengthy dialogue and inactive silences, these scenes disrupt the show and make the whole thing feel drawn-out.

In conclusion, WRAITH RADIO is a visceral, intimate sharing of a human being's fleeting last moments of life. In a time that holds so much uncertainty, this dystopian fever dream feels all too possible. This work has good bones and, should the playwright elect to do so, the makings of a powerful two-person drama. If you enjoy immersive, experimental theatre, WRAITH RADIO should definitely be added to your must-see list.

WRAITH RADIO is currently playing at BAM Academy South (1202 Industrial Blvd. Austin, Texas 78745). Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at 8pm (house opens at 7:30pm).

More information and purchase tickets

Finding the location: Look for the signs located outside the gate. Upon entering the gate look for the building that is illuminated with BAM ACADEMY written on the outside. Please try and come early as there will be no admission once the performance begins

*Tickets CANNOT be purchased at the door. Extremely Limited Seating

*Intended for mature audiences only.

*Performances take place in a small, enclosed space. Those with Claustrophobia or Claustrophobic tendencies may be affected.

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From This Author Lacey Cannon Gonzales