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BWW Review: RADIO STAR At The Red Room

Tanya O'Debra's 1940's radio detective spoof Radio Star is the ideal comedic one-woman show. Short and sweet, bawdy and hilarious, this performance reminds us why we must always appreciate the off-off theater scene. Set deep in the mystery of New York City, the audience watches (well, listens) as O'Debra narrates the episode of "The Case of the Long-Distance Lover."

Radio Star marks O'Debra's return to theater after an eight-year stint in the New York underground comedy scene. As half of the comic sister duo, The O'Debra Twins, she has played all over Manhattan, taking the stage in such venues as Joe's Pub, PS 122, La Mama Etc., and The Bowery Poetry Club. O'Debra also held a position as the co-host of the open mic ‘Show and Tell' at The Bowery Club, and was a co-writer and co-director for the FringeNYC production F*ck You or Dead Pee-Holes; An American Tale In Thirteen Acts. Radio Star comes to the New York off-off-Broadway stage after making its debut at Glasslands Gallery and then playing a successful run at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

O'Debra's history in comedy certainly shines through with this performance. Possessing the enviable talent to give each character a separate voice and personality, the actress is easily able to bounce back and forth in a quick-witted conversation with herself. The lead character Nick McKittrick: Private Dick narrates the story, combining sexual innuendos with blatant observations and internal monologues.

Throughout the episode O'Debra consistently and cleverly pokes fun at the genre of detective spoofs; Nick's internal dialogue is overheard by other characters in the story, and he is prone to delivering far too many puns at one time. "Strangled with a phone cord, eh? Sounds like someone needed to make a call pretty bad. Don't worry, Mrs. LaRue. I'll get this creep on the line. Murder is no way to operate. That cat dialed a wrong number. He better get used to calling long distance." O'Debra's characters touch upon the usual detective noir stereotypes, including an Irish cop, a beautiful dame in distress, a squeaky baby doll secretary (my favorite voice) and an incredibly unappealing manservant. Each voice is entertaining and clever in its own right, vividly painting the visuals that are missing from the stage.

The radio narrative is broken up by advertisements for "Iron Lung Cigarettes" and accented by sound effects and 1940's theme music. Composer Andrew Mauriello is responsible for this accompaniment, sitting at a table equipped with a laptop, tap shoes, and some other sound producing props. Unfortunately the music, though appropriate, always seems to come a beat too late in the moment, and holds a sort of tinny quality that removes it from O'Debra's vivid narrative. The music itself is fabulous and nails the genre, but would hold much more of an effect if it was played over house speakers or was provided a better source to give it a more full sound. This is the first collaboration between Mauriello and O'Debra and, with the kinks worked out, there's is bound to be a humorous and successful union.

Radio Star provides the ideal outlet for O'Debra's bawdy and sexual humor, which is scattered throughout the narrative in a hilarious and often shocking manner. Lines like "Dames, can't live with them, can't rape them" play with the cliches of the time, but add an edge to the story, provoking fits of hysterical laughter from the audience. Radio Star dares to go there, tap dancing back and forth across the line into dark humor, but the result is always clever, original, and unflinchingly funny.

The Red Room is the perfect venue for a show such as this; the small space provides the intimate atmosphere that is necessary for solo performances. O'Debra is seated and stationary for the entire length of the show, so the full weight of our focus rests on her ability to capture us with her story-telling skills. If we were in a bigger space there is no doubt that some of the humor and wit would be lost in the air between us; in the Red Room we are very close to O'Debra and her characters.

Radio Star is an enjoyable trip into the realms of cliche, humor, and genre mocking banter. O'Debra succeeds in combining her own particular brand of farce with the classic detective story, and the result is cute, smart, and fun. He show embodies the best aspects of off-off-Broadway, providing the audience with the dirty humor and clever story that we have come to expect from a romp in the underground whimsy of New York City.

The production, presented by Horse Trade Theater Group and Tanya O'Debra, will play at The Red Room (85 East 4th Street between 2nd Ave and Bowery) January 11, 12, 18, 19, 25, & 26 @ 9pm. Tickets ($15) are available by calling Smarttix at 212-868-4444 or online at

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From This Author Gabrielle Sierra