Rich Hall, Perrier and Emmy Award-winning writer/comedian, debuted his first full-length play.
The world is on the brink of economic meltdown due to rampant oil cost rises and chronic global fuel shortages. Contentious syndicated talk-show host Wayman Tisdale (played by Rich Hall), broadcasting from his remote west Texas station, is violently interrupted by a young drifter claiming to be a Messiah on the run. What follows is a disturbing, darkly comic, caustic mystery thriller... a dissection of modern US mores and values, religion, paranoia, twisted politics and, above all, faith. When America sneezes, the world catches cold, so wrap up warm, buckle up and brace yourselves!
When radio is your life you never know who you’ll be in touch with through your talk show! Gas is in short supply, non-essential vehicles are rusting in the front yards, electricity supplies are irregular/ unreliable, you’re stockpiling gas for the generator. Doing your late night talk show on your own radio station and advertising the comfort of a mattress you don’t even use, miles out of town when you get an unexpected visitor. Wayman Tisdale (Rich Hall) is amazed by Scrope’s (Rory Keenan) story that his radio show is spouting explanations of chapters of revelations, how others with special gifts will be making pilgrimages ending in his studio. Scrop’s life has been grim till he discovered his ability to divine oil. Used and misused by Demitri (David Calvitto) and Guffy (Mike Wilmot) he is on the run seeking his salvation and safety. Cornered at the isolated radio station and finding out that Wayman Tisdale is not the messiah he was seeking, yet in his way in the end Tidesdale could be said to be Scrope’s saviour! This show is beautifully directed, as usual, may I say by the wonderful Guy Masterson, although on the whole fairly dark and full of foreboding, the shows lighter moments are appreciated. Not what you could call a feel good show this enjoyable theatrical experience demonstrates further aspects of these actors vast talents. (Sheila Jack - One-4-Review 10/08/06)
Chortle (Melbourne Comedy Festival)
There’s a thin line between comedy and a hostage situation,’ is a much-quoted line fromRich Hall's stand-up set. And it’s that very theme of being detained against your will that has also inspired his first work as a playwright.
Levelland is set in Texas in the near future, where petrol prices have reached $10 a gallon at the pump. Although that converts to an all-too-believable £1.45 a litre, in oil-addicted America it’s brought about not only frequent power blackouts, but real fears of impending apocalypse, Revelations-style.
From his remote studio, the cult figure of Wayman hosts his popular phone-in show, fielding calls from the deluded, the insane and the prejudiced. Played by Hall himself, Wayman has two traits rare in a talk-show jock - moderation and intelligence – and two that are all-too common - an absolute certainty that he is right, and a fondness for cutting off those who dare disagree.
But the cocooned world he rules is blown apart when a mysterious and apparently unhinged stranger bursts into his sanctuary, doused in sweat, nursing a blooded hand and ranting incoherently. The man, who we later learn is called Scrope, cuts a scary figure, but it’s clear he’s also scared himself, but of who, or what, we don’t know.
So the two parts of this play are established: the social comment which director Guy Masterson, the man behind the all-comedian version of 12 Angry Men, calls ‘what if’ theatre and the taut, claustrophobic thriller.
Despite its creator’s credentials, Levelland is no comedy. There is a black humour to parts of it, especially in Wayman’s cocksure philosophising and his offhand dismissal of the outrageous beliefs of his callers (who could be seen as the dramatic equivalent of hecklers), but otherwise this is played entirely straight.
In fact, the greatest compliment to Hall’s acting is that you quickly forget he’s a stand-up altogether. Wayman might be a biting, no-nonsense, gruff-voiced middle American, just like Hall’s comedy persona, but he’s a real character, brought properly to independent life.
The show, however, is stolen by Nathaniel Davis as the near-psychotic Scrope, whose violent outbursts and terrifying religious fervour gradually dissolve as the chain of events that brought him staggering into this desolate radio studio emerges. He evolves from the aggressor into a more sympathetic figure, and ultimately the victim of callous manipulators.
As the play progresses, the narrative becomes more straightforward and conventional as the back story is filled in and the threads of the plot are tied together, which makes the end not quite as impressive as the start.
But the initial idea of what people would do for oil if – or rather, when – their whole way of life is jeopardised by its scarcity gives an intriguing and satirical edge to the tight script, and the execution in Masterson’s safe hands makes for an absorbing piece of theatre. (Steve Bennett - Chortle - May 2006)