DIME NOVELS RADIO THEATER, Tremont Avenue Productions, at the Side Project. Radio plays seem to be beloved even by many too young to have heard The Shadow live. For "Dime Novels Radio Theater," Roger Marsh has written three new 60-minute scripts, all with parodic "commercials." Each show is performed once a week and has a different cast, garbed in the style of the mid-1940s and speaking in that era's rat-a-tat rhythms. Meanwhile the background music is mostly ragtime. The stories, however, are set in contemporary Chicago and use such gadgets as cell phones, and the sound effects are not only created by the cast but added by computer. The anachronisms may be intentional, but the silly ramblings of these stories probably aren't.
In Mars Attacks Chicago, a Rogers Park woman falls asleep while watching television, only to wake up to a noise she mistakenly thinks is someone breaking in. When a friend calls the police, the woman, her husband, the friend, and the landlord want to avoid being fined and concoct an elaborate story to fool the cops, involving a disappearing neighbor--"Dominick Jewel"--and evil Martians. The story enables Marsh to joke about the way the media hype nonevents, but the play is more pointless than satiric as the flat characters engage in wilder and wilder shenanigans. The cast aren't much help: their acting is limited to expressive readings of the script in different accents.
Jack and the Wild Onion Boys aims for manic mayhem but eventually feels like an endless Wile E. Coyote cartoon. Jack, who wins a contest for a weekend in Chicago, somehow winds up in the room of a murdered girl who happened to be his eighth-grade crush, has an encounter with Michael Jackson, becomes a member of a secret band of crime fighters called the Wild Onion Boys, goes on two airborne chases, and opens a cafe visited by Mayor Daley. Occasional bits are funny, but the story is slowed by repeated recitations of the Wild Onion Boys oath, which requires the audience to raise their right hands each time.
What a Novel Idea isn't at all novel or funny. One actor was so bored that he was reading a book onstage when he didn't have lines. A bumbling mayor accidentally spends $45,000 in city funds, and he and his coworkers try to find a way to replace the money without anyone finding out what happened. Their solution is to self-publish a novel by the city clerk, which to everyone's embarrassment turns out to be a Peyton Place roman a clef.