Schadenfreude, the German word meaning pleasure derived from the pain and suffering of others could almost be a word to describe the dry, witty, quite thoughtful, and generally dark comedy of 74 Minutes of Stereo Radio Theater. This concept was wonderfully explained in Avenue Q in 2003, but has been referenced in many other places including the Simpsons in 1991. However I think this play requires the audience to utilize schadenfreude differently – as rather a recognition or appreciation of suffering (which would be something like Schäden Anerkennung OR recognition/appreciation of pain). Since there is always a lesson to be learned or an observation to be had by the characters in Stereo Radio Theater, it plays much more like a parable than a satire of people’s lives.
In 74 Minutes of Stereo Radio Theater, we have a couple playing off the different funny combinations and disasters that can happen when two people have some sort of relationship to each other in the form of eight short one-act plays. The male roles are played by Andrew Shulman who is also the director, and the female roles are played by Maureen Fitzgerald who is also the writer.
One thing that is very tantalizing about this show is that there is a twist in each of the stories where the essence of the relationship changes so it is different than it started and that becomes the essence of the relationship between the characters in the next piece.
In the beginning of the first play The Essentials there is a change from a couple fighting with each other about every little detail in their lives to the end where they realize the most important thing each of them has is each other.
In the second play, I Have A Really Good Feeling About This, we start with two friends who have never been anything more than friends. The man continuously goes through a cycle where, when single, he creates an image of the perfect woman. This image, however, is so high on a pedestal that when he finally meets someone who will take him (with his plethora of emotional hangups) they can never live up to the fantasy so he quickly drives them away. His friend always tells him it will be okay and then cycle repeats. They explore the idea of becoming more than just friends, and cheerfully run through the litany of reasons why this idea is such a bad one. He says that their “sexual miscalculation” will be as bad for them as “a repressed necrophiliac with a skull fetish”. In other the really GOOD feeling is a very BAD idea.
The third play begins with an obvious visual connection to the former play by having a witch doctor with a large feathered headdress with a skull in the center of it. The bad idea of the second piece is that the witch doctor – in his need to “appease” the gods – has had the habit of sacrificing a rather large amount of virgin maidens for more and more trifling misfortunes of the society he lives in. So much so that his once thriving civilization of a quarter of a million brilliant and beautiful people has gone down to 83 old people and children and 7 goats. This has all been enabled by chief’s advisor – a woman who he has mistaken for a man all these years. She decides to take a stand against this…
But then something strange happens which twists the story again. I’ll leave you to see what happens while you still can. You won’t be disappointed.
74 Minutes of Stereo Radio Theater
Writer: Maureen FitzGerald