Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Raleigh/Durham

Burning Coal Theatre Company
Review by Garrett Southerland

Ben Apple
Photo by Levin Lord
Many have dreams of greatness at a young age. Some are inspired by heroes and events that develop around them. Such is the case for a young man named Charlie Fairbanks. Radio, by playwright Al Smith, presents the character of Charlie, who tells his personal story of shooting for the stars, or more specially the moon. The play is presented by Burning Coal Theatre Company as part of its "Wait 'Til You See This" Second Stage Series. Burning Coal's Second Stage Series is designed to bring various professionals and organizations together to present new plays and up and coming artists. Radio is one of four plays that will be presented in rotation through June 23 at the Murphey School Auditorium in Raleigh.

Al Smith is a British playwright who has been a regular writer for the popular BBC series "EastEnders" as well as co-creator of "The Cut" (also shown on BBC2). Radio is one of several plays he has written. This play was first produced for BBC radio in 2007. The play has only one character, that of Charlie. He regals his experience of being born at the beginning of the "Space Race" of the 1950s between the United States and the Soviet Union. He is inspired at a young age to be the first man on the moon. As time progresses, his dreams are dashed as the advancements in space travel speed well into the 1960s. All the while, he goes through a kind of laundry list of historical events from the launching of Sputnik, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, and the Vietnam War.

Though the play is titled Radio and the focus seems to be on Charlie's interest in space travel and the moon, the play seems to revolve more around his father, who moves his family several times and ultimately starts an American flag business. The radio and its influence on Charlie is peppered here and there, though it doesn't seem to warrant the title and may be misleading for those trying to decipher meaning. A highlight in the play comes closer to the end as Charlie recalls a "magical" experience his mother has with President Gerald Ford and his wife.

Lucy Jane Atkinson beautifully directs the intimate production. Thanks to accomplished designers Juan Isler with sound, Meredith Riggan with scenery, and Beth Gargan with costumes, the one-person play uses the bare minimum of set, sound and light to effectively capture emotion rather than place.

Ben Apple does a splendid job keeping the audience's attention as Charlie Fairbanks. To have any one actor hold the stage alone for 180 minutes is a feat. Mr. Apple utilizes the black box theatre (and what few props and costumes options he has) to great effect, creating vignettes of time and space.

Radio is a worthy introduction to Burning Coal Theatre Company's "Wait 'Til You See This" series.

Radio runs through June 23, 2024, at Burning Coal Theatre Company, Murphey School Auditorium, 224 Polk St., Raleigh NC. For tickets and information, please visit call 919-834-4001.

Playwright: Al Smith
Director: Lucy Jane Atkinson
Costume Design: Beth Gargan
Sound Design: Juan Isler
Painter: Meredith Riggan