Volume 75, Number 43 | March 15 -21 2006

Villager photo by Jefferson Siegel

A scene from “The Advenures of Dick Danger,” a snarky spin on radio shows of yore. It runs every Friday night at the Bouwerie Lane Theater.

The gumshoe without a clue returns to off-Broadway

By Jefferson Siegel

An unusual and entertaining show debuted earlier this month at the Jean Cocteau Repertory’s Bouwerie Lane Theatre. Part radio drama, part Saturday morning, two-reel cliff-hanger, “The Continuing Adventures of Dick Danger” puts a snarky new spin on the Golden Age of Radio.

A brief synopsis can’t do justice to the ongoing plot. But try to imagine: Dick Danger is a 40’s-style private eye trapped in the present. His former therapist, a German who suffers crippling leg cramps at the slightest twinge of sexual arousal, wants Danger dead. The therapist hires a former debutante, Clara Baldridge, who has fallen on hard times, to kill Danger. But, Clara’s homicidal tendencies crumple into lust at the sight of Danger’s hirsute chest. And that’s just in the first few minutes.

“I’m to dress in black,” Clara tells Danger, “wear no underwear, and hum the single “The Real Thing” by American Idol runner-up Bo Bice.”

“Why black?” Danger ponders aloud in one of the many understated exchanges in this screwball, 21st century version of a mystery radio show.

Long before television scorched viewer’s retinas and scrambled their sensibilities, American homes tuned to imaginative radio dramas for evening relaxation. Over time, though, radio serials faded under the onslaught of television and all but died out by the sixties. Towards the end of that drug-fueled decade, an homage to radio drama briefly appeared on vinyl records. The Firesign Theater capitalized on cultural memory in a half-dozen albums of headphone-worthy comedies, including the seminal “Further Adventures of Nick Danger.”

The current production carries on that trippy satire of 1940’s hard-boiled detectives, improving on it with tight, creative writing and spot-on period costumes.

As the play proceeds and each well-crafted innuendo begins to sink in, the plot thickens. Danger phones the media to alert them of the dastardly murder scheme. He is surprised to learn that his press contacts, Judith Miller and Jayson Blair, are out of work.

The lights dim and the scene changes to a cafe south of the border, where plans are afoot to move Wal-Marts to Mexico. As the therapist’s henchmen plot scenarios in a rapid, song-filled patter, El Gato Blanco appears as a potential savior. El Gato, the Clean Avenger may, or may not, save the day with his keen fashion sense.

If it all sounds part-psychedelic and part-MTV-ish, it’s because creators Chris Boal and brothers Gregory and James Wolfe worked on early 1990’s MTV shows, including “Pirate TV” and “Colin Quinn.”

They were also the first overnight VJ’s (video jockies) on the music channel, where their spontaneous offbeat humor took root as their routines ran wild on camera. Around the same time, Boal and the Wolfes premiered the original “Dick Danger” at the 29th Street Repertory Theater’s late-night comedy cabaret. Staging a new show every two weeks, the episodic comedy played for over two years, before the Wolfe brothers founded the Moonwork Theater Company, which puts 21st century spins on another old entertainer, Shakespeare.

As Episode One continues, characters dash through the audience and bound on stage to unfurl fresh idiosyncrasies. Danger’s old friend Felch, fresh from a weekend retreat to rediscover his inner male, parades around in a loincloth mouthing homilies to masculinity. Erma Shvinestuker, a German dominatrix who forgets to remove her clothing labels, threatens to blow everyone away with a 1930’s machine gun. Danger seeks answers at his favorite brunch and bondage haunt, the Mug ‘n Plug, where an old flame offers to relive their better days by dropping to all fours.

“Danger” goes to great lengths to recreate the feeling of live radio theater on stage. One imaginative scene puts Clara and Danger in a vertical bed, post-coitus. The bed is really a sheet held by another character, who interrupts the action by dropping the sheet for his moment in the spotlight. Even the stage-left announcer plays a part, alternately narrating interstitial moments while agonizing at his own lack of achievement in the theater world.

More than one loose end remained at the end of the first episode. Audience members left wondering whether El Gato Blanco would defeat the Wal-Mart Mercenaries with his keen fashion sense. Or if Danger would escape from the potentially evil but very alluring Clara Baldridge. You’ll have to tune in this Friday to find out.
Tickets to “The Continuing Adventures of Dick Danger” include complimentary beer before and after the show, which runs every Friday night at 11 pm at the Bouwerie Lane Theatre, 330 Bowery at the corner of Bond Street. For more information, call 212-358-5738 or visit www.Moonwork.org.

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