It gets pretty weird down there, south of the river, where a favorite rallying cry is: “Keep Portland Weird!” Up here, some locals like to retort, “Keep Vancouver Normal!”
Folks, the weird is already here — making definite inroads in spots like the Kiggins Theatre, which will host the latest radio-drama performance by the Portland-based Willamette Radio Workshop on Wednesday night.
The weirdness of Portland is the theme of “City of Weird,” which brings to the stage five radio plays adapted by Cynthia J. McGean from a 2016 short-story anthology of the same name, published by Forest Avenue Press. All the trendy trademarks and funky flavors of Portlandia will make appearances as they’re mashed up with elements of fantasy and science fiction.
Martians ride the gentrification wave as they flee West Burnside for swanky condominiums; a Sasquatch with a pot dispensary faces a ghostly mystery; killer slime molds scattered around Portland by the mother ship are struck by existential angst in the rain; cave-dwellers circa 30,000 B.C. write letters to The Oregonian about their discovery of fire, and how it’s changed Yak Village.
All of that will be brought to life in Willamette Radio’s usual fashion: old-fashioned radio drama as it was presented during what’s considered the Golden Age of Radio, the 1930s through the 1950s. It was in 1938 that Orson Welles and his Mercury Theater on the Air proved the real power of radio drama in “The War of the Worlds,” which used actors, bewildering sound effects and fake news so deftly, at least a few listeners were fooled into believing that Martians really had landed in New Jersey. (The fact that Hitler was on the rise and the whole world was already tense helped leverage the illusion.)
If You Go
• What: Willamette Radio Workshop’s “City of Weird,” adapted by Cynthia J. McGean.
• When: 7 p.m. Wednesday.
• Where: Kiggins Theatre, 1011 Main St., Vancouver.
• Admission: Free, but $5 donation requested.
• On the web: http://www.kigginstheatre.net/events/re-imagined-radio/
Willamette Radio does exactly the same thing: live actors and ingenious sound effects generated by special equipment as well as household objects. You’ve got the additional treat that radio-drama audiences of yesteryear never could enjoy: watching the illusions get made onstage from the comfort of your theater seat.
The show is free, but a $5 donation is requested to help defray expenses and keep radio drama coming to the Kiggins. Not just radio drama, but radio comedy too: An August performance, tentatively called “Laugh Your Dial Off,” will revive some of the madcap mischief of Golden Age stars like the Marx Brothers and Fibber McGee.
“Each one thinks the other one is very weird,” John Barber said of Vancouver and Portland. Barber teaches in the creative media and digital culture program at Washington State University Vancouver; his academic project, Re-Imagined Radio, started bringing Willamette Radio to the Kiggins years ago.
“If we can enjoy that divide and even laugh about it, it might do wonders for cross-cultural sharing,” Barber said. “I’m hoping to be able to draw Portlanders to Vancouver to see this show — and discover that downtown Vancouver is a very interesting place.”