SBCC’s ‘The Thin Man’ provides a robust, humorous radio experience

The Channels Art Pages | CRITICAL REVIEW

Robert+Allen%2C+Laksmini+Wiyantini+and+Madison+Widener+act+out+an+old+Commercial+to+serve+as+a+smooth+transitional+between+acts+for+City+College%27s+virtual+performance+of+the+radio+drama+%22The+Thin+Man%22+on+Wednesday%2C+April+21%2C+2021.+Performers+are+separated+by+plexiglass+at+all+times+while+on+stage+to+prevent+the+spread+of+COVID-19.

August Lawrence

Robert Allen, Laksmini Wiyantini and Madison Widener act out an old Commercial to serve as a smooth transitional between acts for City College’s virtual performance of the radio drama “The Thin Man” on Wednesday, April 21, 2021. Performers are separated by plexiglass at all times while on stage to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

August Lawrence, Associate Editor

The Theatre Group at City College premiered its live radio production of Dashiell Hammett’s whodunit classic “The Thin Man” last Wednesday, April 21, for online streaming available through May 8.

The production is based on the original Lux Radio Theatre script from 1936, complete with sound effects and commercials, and replicating the drama that didn’t require physical interaction between actors allowed for more freedom to create a COVID-safe environment.

Performers were separated on stage by plexiglass cubicles, each equipped with its own microphone so the actors could voice their parts while maintaining a safe distance.

Visuals weren’t meant to be the focal point of this production.

A narrator set each scene, describing the action in detail: “In the living room of the suite at their hotel, Nick and Nora are listening to the radio,” or “Nick pushes Nora out of the way, just before Morelli fires the gun.”

The story centers around the mysterious disappearance of a wealthy inventor and a retired detective who is tempted out of retirement one last time to solve a murder surrounding the incident.

Matthew Tavianini and Jenna Scanlon as the leads Nick and Nora Charles in City College's virtual performance of the radio drama "The Thin Man" on Wednesday, April 21, 2021. Their on-stage banter and chemistry together was palpable, and their scenes were highlights of the night.
Matthew Tavianini and Jenna Scanlon as the leads Nick and Nora Charles in City College’s virtual performance of the radio drama “The Thin Man” on Wednesday, April 21, 2021. Their on-stage banter and chemistry together was palpable, and their scenes were highlights of the night. (August Lawrence)

The detective Nick Charles, performed by Matthew Tavianini, is an intelligent, dapper, quick-witted wiseguy. Tavianini plays him entertainingly and convincingly, and it’s easy to tell he’s having fun with the role.

Charles and his wife Nora, played by Jenna Scanlon, are confronted along the way by many shady characters—a mobster, a crooked lawyer, a hysterical daughter and a mysterious whistleblower—and must figure their way out of a murder, a kidnapping and a number of run-ins with the law.

Both Tavianini and Scanlon have standout performances. Their husband-and-wife banter and on-stage chemistry feel natural and long-lived, with Scanlon shining through as the lovable comic relief of the duo.

As always, the main characters were the best actors of the bunch.

It felt as if many supporting actors, like chorus member Jon Koons, didn’t know lines and tripped over other actors’ words while others, like damsel-in-distress Penny O’Mahoney, knew the script too well and the delivery ended up feeling like a forced emotion being quoted into the camera.

Although a few actors may have been dull and seemingly unprepared, other members of the supporting cast portrayed their parts remarkably and were a pleasure to watch.

Van Riker was enjoyable as the low-life mobster unfairly taking all the blame and brought a feel of professionalism to the production.

Madison Widener and Robert Allen play the would-be femme fatal and the self-assured, doofus lover boy, respectively. Both actors have engaging and memorable takes on the classic characters while also filling smaller supporting roles, such as reporters and newsboys.

But a real highlight of the night was Laksmini Wiyantini who portrayed Asta, the Charles family’s pet dog. Wiyantini carried around the cutest dirty-blond stuffed pooch, moving the ears, wagging its tail like a puppet and barking and whining into her mic as the dog. Both Wiyantini and her stuffed companion are a delightful and heartwarming presence throughout.

In keeping with the radio show theme, the cast parodied old radio commercials as a fun, immersive, smooth transition between acts.

Ethan Scott, who played the creepy, murder-obsessed son of the titular Thin Man, is a hilarious watch—jumping whole-heartedly into his role and relishing every line with a humorously oily-smooth, self-important sneer.

To give more of a 1930’s feel, sound artist Rene Hooper provided atmosphere, making live noises that went along with the actions portrayed onstage. She acoustically created ringing telephones, police car sirens and gunshots amongst other sounds.

The production is available through May 8, and tickets can be purchased here.