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Monday, Oct. 14, 2013

Radiolab's "Apocalyptical" Explored The End at the Riverside Theater

radiolab apocalyptical riverside theater 2013 milwaukee
Photo credit: Sara Bill
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When it comes to the kind of philosophically scientific stories the program explores, Radiolab has a huge home-field advantage with their chosen medium, where a little audio magic can transport listeners anywhere in the cosmos at any point in time in order to illustrate a particular principle, confident that their imagination will take care of the rest. Onstage however, the program, created by hosts Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich, has to grapple with a whole new visual dimension, three of them to be exact, and integrating those elements into their heady, wonder-filled approach to examining the world around us comes with more than its fair share of challenges. Radiolab being one of the most ambitious programs on NPR, people expect a live show to match, and while there’s been something of a learning curve, this latest iteration lives up to the show’s imaginative on-air appeal.

Entitled Apocalyptical, this tour’s program is all about endings, but began with some standup from talented comedian Kurt Braunohler, who returned periodically to effectively inject some levity into the proceedings. This being Radiolab, he opened by demonstrating a scientific device, an infrared thermometer, but him being a comedian, he did so rather unscientifically, using it to measure the residual heat of audience member’s crotches. With the crowd relaxed, Braunohler turned things over to Abumrad and Krulwich, who led with a lengthy examination of what caused the dinosaur’s extinction, breaking down the implications of some new research suggesting their end came much swifter and cataclysmically than previously thought. They did so with assistance from some living, breathing dinosaurs, or at least puppets crafted and manipulated well enough to give the impression of life, although they weren’t possessed of it for long (the meteor saw to that).

Those special guests were easily the night’s most spectacular effect, but in general Abumrad and Krulwich have developed a defter touch when it comes to blending the multimedia elements into a cohesive and engrossing experience, approaching the seamless ebb and flow of the radio show. Using live video feeds and music, prepared footage, audio samples and more, they briefly explored the “deaths” of certain atoms and the ends of genetic bloodlines, before capping off the evening with another extended story, the inspiring tale of a pair of elderly actors who, both suffering from worsening Parkinson’s disease, confront their condition and its inevitable consequences through their craft, with a cathartic performance of Samuel Beckett’s bleak Endgame. Abumrad and Krulwich may be most at home on the radio, but thanks to some considerable ingenuity and a little old-fashioned showmanship, Apocalyptical stands on its own, off the air.