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Review: Radio Redux's "Casablanca" is a dramatic blast from the past

We live in a world obsessed with what we can see. So many hours of every day are spent soaking up images and messages from pages and screens. Even music seems to be made for the eyes: music videos like Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off” and Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” seem to define the songs’ popularity more than the music itself. Fred Craft’s Radio Redux, a radio theatre company based in Eugene, challenges all that.

Radio Redux deems itself as “radio worth watching.” The productions are live dramatizations of 1940s-era radio broadcasts (known as “theater of the mind,”) complete with period costumes, character voices, and physical sound effects. These productions transcend visual appeal, and pay tribute to broadcast radio’s golden age. The unique format challenges the audience to use their imagination and to entertain themselves beyond what the eye can see. In this Friday night’s performance, Radio Redux presented an adaptation of the classic film Casablanca, a riveting romance set in the throes of World War II. Though some elements of the story are ill-suited to the live-radio format, the actors’ excellent characterization and energy made for an vibrant and engaging production.

The storyline of Casablanca is familiar to many, thanks to the wildly popular 1943 film. This production, however, spiced up the story with an occasional dash of campiness. At one point, the audience participated in an interactive sing-a-long with the saloon musician, pun-laden joke commercials were thrown into the broadcast,  and large “Applause” signs were intermittently held up from the sound effects booth. These moments contributed to the overall nostalgic appeal of the show, and were well-balanced by the drama of the script and the beautiful music, both recorded and performed live by Stanley Coleman.

The cast performed extremely well, conveying the tension and drama of wartime diplomacy with a variety of character voices and accents. Bill Hulings was especially engaging as Rick, the story’s stoic, but ultimately sentimental, protagonist. His lines, full of dry humor and believable emotion, were well-delivered, and his chemistry with Nancy Hopps’ Ilsa was excellent. Achilles Massahos was also a stand-out as corrupt but endearing Captain Renault.

At times, Casablanca struggled with the inherent challenges of a live-radio format. It can be difficult for actors to display emotion without blocking or physical engagement. Scenes that relied on action or violence fell a little flat, and romantic moments were interrupted by the presence of the large vintage radio microphones.

These setbacks were minor however, in comparison the energy and vitality of the rest of the production. The tragic love story of Casablanca was well-suited for Radio Redux’s unique format, and the actors did justice to its many plot twists and dramatic moments. If Fifty Shades of Grey isn’t really your thing, or your eyes just want a break from an increasingly visual culture, end your Valentine’s weekend with Radio Redux. Sit back, close your eyes, and let your imagination enjoy some “radio worth watching.”

Casablanca‘s final performance is on Sunday, February 15 at 2 p.m. Performances are in the Soreng Theatre at the Hult Center, and tickets are $21, with student discounts available. Visit the Hult Center website or the Radio Redux website for more information.

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