Theatre Review: Radio GALS
By Jim Morekis

Artists hate to hear this, but for most of us the cultural experience boils down to the little things. And at the top of the list is finding a damn parking space.

So bear with my Philistinism, actors, directors, musicians and craftspeople. Because I’m going to crassly begin my review of Savannah Community Theatre’s inaugural production Radio GALS -- and a fine production it is -- by proclaiming from the mountaintops my utter joy at being able to drive around to the back of the old Belk building at Victory & Skidaway, pull my car right up to the entrance of the theatre, get out and go in and enjoy the play.

That simple. No slow circling of downtown squares behind a cavernous, diesel-spewing trolley with five tourists in it. No traffic piling up behind a horse carriage going .000001 mile per hour, driver turned completely around in her seat talking to her customers obliviously. No perspiration-inducing half-sprint from the car to the theatre to make curtain time.

Making it even more pleasurable is the excellent job Savannah Community Theatre has done with the space, which occupies the back of the building it shares with the Savannah Children’s Theatre, whose entrance is in front, facing Victory Drive. (And neither is in Thunderbolt, as the Morning News has erroneously written.)

A modern facade with a small but inviting lobby greets you as you walk in. The performance space is a typical black box theatre -- low ceiling, stage bounded on three sides by blocks of seats, with lots of, you know, black. But here’s the thing: There’s a cupholder in each seat! Cupholders, people! Think of the possibilities.

OK, on with the actual review. Everyone knows Tom Coleman and his excellent reputation as a stern but loving director of quality theatre. He has said prior to this show that he actually had little to do with the day-to-day direction because he was so busy making sure the theatre itself was ready. That may be true, but it’s clear that his dominating, focused presence hovered over the cast during rehearsals of this show, so light in subject matter but so demanding in terms of cues and tempo.

The old saying goes, drama is easy but comedy is hard, and it’s true. The fluffiest of farces -- and Radio GALS definitely qualifies -- is totally dependent on the ability of the cast to hit their cues religiously and, most importantly, keep the tempo up. This cast of local veterans delivers the goods, unfailingly and unpretentiously.

Radio GALS is essentially musical sketch comedy. Hazel Hunt (Grace Diaz Tootle) hosts a radio show from her living room in rural Arkansas, accompanied by her all-girl “Hazel Nuts” and her fortunetelling, poetry-prone friend Gladys Fritts (Nicole Koplik).

The comedy and the songs are as silly as it gets, but the savvy audience member will pick up a clearly surrealist vibe. Radio GALS is set in the late ‘20s, and subtly echoes the quietly subversive, proto-stoner humor of the time. (Anyone who’s seen a Betty Boop cartoon or Krazy Kat comic strip from that era knows exactly what I mean. What, you thought recreational drugs were invented in the ‘60s?)

The entire cast does an excellent job with this deceptive material, seemingly so simple but in reality quite difficult to do well. But my Best in Show award goes to Nicole Koplik, who shows great comedic taste as Gladys, aka “Swami G.” Never going for the cheap mug or the easy take, Koplik stays firmly in character, underplaying rather than chewing the scenery.

This is not to shortchange anyone else, including the always-great Tootle and Mark Rand (as government agent and closet showman O.B. Abbott) and the hilarious Hazel-Nuts (played by Suzanne Cone, Sandra Nix, Kim Shabi and Mickey Dodge).

I close with a special shout-out to Music Director Keena Charbonneau and her drummer James Johnson, who manage to keep up a spirited pace while never drowing out the actors in this very enclosed space.

Performances of Radio GALS are at 7:30 P.M. 24, 25, 26, 31, June 1 and 2. Sunday matinee May 27 at 3 P.M. Tickets are $25 adults, $20 seniors, matinee, students & children $15. Savannah Community Theatre is in the Crossroads Shopping Center at 2160 E. Victory Drive. Call 898-9021.

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