Radio drama has had a strange resurgence in the recent past. “Welcome to Nightvale,” the offbeat, dark and always funny adventure, has become one of America’s most listened to podcasts. The University of Miami’s very own radio station, WVUM, dazzled listeners with it’s short fiction program, “Pure Imagination.” And now, the grand tradition of audio drama is continued in front of a live studio audience by the spectacular “Intergalactic Nemesis: Target Earth!” from the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center.
Simply calling it audio drama wouldn’t quite do the show justice. As the actors deliver their gloriously pulpy lines, beautiful comic art zips around a movie screen behind them, an improvised score is whipped up in front of your eyes and mundane objects become spectacular when used to create sound effects on the stage. It’s like a three-ring circus, giving the audience sensory overload with so many parts, but most appreciated as a cohesive whole.
The voices, provided by a team of three people, are spectacular. They are reminiscent of when our parents read stories to us as children with different voices for all of the characters. The actors do a spectacular job of keeping the voices varied, a necessity when a cast of more than 20 characters must be portrayed by only three actors.
The sound effects created a sort of nostalgia as the stage operator dashed about her table, grinding cinder blocks and revving up toy cars and shaking boxes of pasta into microphones like a professional version of playing pretend. The music helps tie the show together with jazzy motifs being improvised on, swelling with the audience’s cheers and highlighting fan-favorite elements of the show.
The plot is fairly simple and deals in stock characters. The plucky reporter Molly Sloan and her nebbish assistant Timmy Mendez (think Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen) team up with mysterious librarian Ben Wilcott, and they zoom around earth and beyond, fighting off assorted threats in an effort to defeat the Zygon empire’s hideous aliens made of sludge.
The plot revels in its constant leaps of logic and use of deus ex machina, a sudden solution to a previously impossible problem. The prime example is the introduction of a hitherto unmentioned robot planet, named, of course, “The Robot Planet,” that left the audience in stitches. Peppered throughout, however, are enough references to ’30s pop culture and homages to other classic stories that the show gains a certain sophistication. It acts as a salute, warts and all, to America’s favorite form of entertainment prior to TV.
The audience is invited to cheer and boo and hiss along with the show, leading all members to embrace its child-like insanity. Though in the beginning the audience was shy, by the end they were gasping along with every plot twist, no matter how silly or predictable, and viciously booing every appearance of Mysterion the Magnificent, an absurd hypnosis-themed supervillain whose every scene contained pure comedic gold.
The show – if one can even classify the glorious madness that occurred with as simple a word as “show” – was pure fun from beginning to end. Audiences left the theater begging staff to book them again next year for the sequel, the ominously titled “Robot Planet Rising.” And at just $5 a ticket when purchased through the Culture Shock program, there is no excuse for students not to go. Exciting, funny and nostalgic, “The Intergalactic Nemesis” is a delight for all who see it.