The Shadow, AKA Rachel Productions, at the Athenaeum Theatre. Few things are harder to imagine than life before television. Director-adapter John Hildreth takes the audience back to a radio-theater studio complete with live organ music, tableful of sound effects, flashing applause sign, and actors who vocally morph into innumerable personalities. The program? A reenactment of the final broadcast of a classic drama that taught Americans that crime does not pay and Swanson TV dinners are just swell. "What evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!"
The Shadow was a superhero of sorts, a wealthy playboy who hypnotized people into believing he was invisible, using that power to aid the forces of justice. He himself was aided by the fact that criminals were dumber back then, often revealing their motives and plans in fits of maniacal bravado, leaving the door wide open for the Shadow to thwart them. ("So you're saying you mutilated and killed the caretaker?" "Yes, Shadow, and now I'm going to go three blocks to the east, break into the mansion, and kill the professor--BWA-ha ha hahahaaaaaa!!")
In this well-executed rendition, even the corny dialogue and offstage schmoozing have contemporary comic appeal. All the players--from Michael Falls as the title character to Joe Tech Huppert as the tightly wound organist--display the vocal agility and expert timing of the radio legends they impersonate. Crisp and authentic down to the smallest detail, this production is fun, family-friendly, and nostalgic. --Kim Wilson