If two hours of radio drama feels like an overdose, how about four minutes?
11 Central Ave., a weekly audio comic strip voiced by professional actors, clocks in at just that length. Sneaking up on listeners instead of demanding considerable time and attention, 11 Central is a radio drama that almost doesn’t register as one.
The serial, now airing Fridays during Morning Edition on Chicago Public Radio, takes listeners into the kitchen of a middle-aged couple in an unnamed Anytown. Nat recently lost his job and finds himself a househusband while wife Christine supports the family, which includes Annelise, their teenage daughter, and Rick, Christine’s freeloading younger brother. Elena, Christine's Cuban best friend, rounds out the cast.
The characters kibitz about current events and everyday travails in fast-paced exchanges that sound wry but familiar — conversations any family might have over a rushed weekday breakfast. Yet amid the formal tone and weighty subject matter of Morning Edition, 11 Central’s offhand talkiness is likely to stand out. Some listeners welcome the contrast.
“It’s not your usual way to present the story,” said a reviewer on the Public Radio Exchange, which makes the program available to stations. “And that’s what made me warm up to this. It isn’t the ‘usual.’”
“Witty dialogue is in short supply,” says producer Susan Shepherd. “I don’t know whether I’m actually supplying that, but that’s what I’m reaching for.”
An alumna of Living on Earth and now a marketer for World Vision Report, Shepherd has also written fiction and screenplays and co-writes 11 Central with several collaborators. A blurb about her on the program’s website, 11centralave.org, jokes that she’s been trying to get the show produced “for about two hundred years.” Actually, she and a friend dreamed it up eight years ago.
NPR initially funded pilots that Chicago Public Radio and Boston’s WBUR expressed interest in airing. Then 9/11 came, and “comedy in Morning Edition no longer seemed like a good idea,” Shepherd said.
More recently, Shepherd aspired to make 11 Central a daily segment, but an annual price tag of $250,000 forced her to scale back to a weekly schedule. Chicago Public Radio funds the series, which is produced at WBUR — Shepherd lives outside Boston, and most of the show’s cast members are professional actors on the city’s theater scene.
In upcoming episodes, the cast will gain a new member, Peter Sagal, host of NPR’s Wait Wait . . . Don’t Tell Me! He’ll play a lawyer for Rent-a-Yenta, a dating service that Elena uses, then sues after a few disappointing dates. After placing a booty call to Elena one evening, Sagal’s sleazy character will become a recurring voice amid 11 Central’s talkative crew.
posted Dec. 11, 2006
Copyright 2006 by Current Publishing Committee