The Under The Radar Festival has grown over the 16 years since it first performed at The Public Theater. In its existence it has presented over 229 companies from 42 countries. Under The Radar is at the core of The Public's Mission of "radical diversity", and the Festival tries to provide a high- visibility platform to support artists from diverse backgrounds who are trying to redefine the act of making theater.
The Under The Radar Festival has gained a lot of momentum over the years at The Public Theater,and other theaters as well like LaMaMa and BRIC in Brooklyn are also now partaking in the festival. The Under The Radar Festival runs from January 8 till January 19th at all the various locations. Like all the other years presenting, many different genres as well as different countries will be represented. Shows like "Andares" which is Mexican;"Grey Rock" is from Palestine;"Salt" is a play that takes place in the UK; Ghana and Jamaica. Many works like "The Truth Has Changed" deals with conspiracies, particularly 9/11. Racialized violence is the topic in "What To Send Up When It Goes Down". The Festival is not short on Sci-Fi in "To The Moon". Audience members get to experience what it was like to walk on the moon. "Constellations" is also on the bill as a creative body of work in the sciences.
Under The Radar brings forth Music, Dance and Theater. Many of these works have been performed before; unlike the Scottish Festival Fringe which encourages first time works, "Radar" will produce both new and older works as long as it is original in form and presentation. Over the years, The Under The Radar Festival has gotten international coverage by journalists as to how original and cutting edge the Festival is. Able to tap some of the best young writers from around the world, The Public has yet again stepped out at the fore front of original, insightful theater.
The musical "Susan" is a son's story about his mother and father told by Ahamefule J. Oluo. Oluo tells the tale of how his father, a Nigerian, left his mother, his sister and himself to return back to Nigeria, where he was a chief. His mother was white, from the Midwest and met her husband at college. Her music career was cut short when she married him. When the father left, the family was destitute and forced to live in a Section 8 housing project in Seattle during the 1980's.
"Susan" is a half and half kind of show. The music at times is very good; other times the music is fair at best. Tiffany Wilson is a standout on vocals but her counter part, okanomode is so-so. Even the musicians run the gamut of excellent to fair. The drumming by D'Vonne Lewis was terrific, as was the slide trombone by Jason Cressey. Marina Albero was also a force on keyboards. The band was a soul-jazz with a touch of blues band. While the band for the most part was tight, some of the songs were not, some songs left the audience wondering how particular songs were relevant to the story.
The show was told to the audience by Oluo, music was incorporated into the performance. This too is brought into question. Why not just do a monologue without music? For what reason is the music brought into this? Oluo himself was not a good story teller, laughing harder at his own jokes and not animated enough when he should have been, his story telling was not fun to listen to. Indeed listening to the life story of his mother, (a woman who dated anyone), and his father (a deadbeat who really only cared about himself), left little emotion or piety toward Oluo's family.
The lighting and sound design were superb. Robert Aguilar's lights were really inventive. Aguilar set the backbeat to this other wise average show. He captured the mood of what the show was trying to be. In Matt Starritt's sound we get at times a funny sense of what this person had to deal with growing up in a widely dysfunctional family. Yet, the weak story telling in the end cannot make up for the good things in it. We feel no emotion when Basil, his brother shows up from Nigeria. We feel nothing as to how they survived as a family and much of that has to do with the narration .
With Festivals, one can find a hidden gem or a show that has potential with a little more work to be put into it. Festivals unfortunately can leave audiences uninspired, particularly festivals that just want radical; diversity and works that deal with anything but traditional theater. "Radar" limits itself by putting forth only shows that are unordinary. Musicals like "Susan" are only fair and leave the audience wanting more: more story; more music; and more depth too it.