To commemorate the 147th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, a crew of DJs at Stanford University’s college radio station KZSU will be performing a special radio drama tonight. KZSU’s adaptation of “Our American Cousin,” the play that Lincoln was watching when he was shot, will air on 90.1 FM (and stream on their website) tonight from 8 to 10pm Pacific time.
Sixteen KZSU staff members acted in and recorded the radio drama under the direction of KZSU’s Program Director Mark Mollineaux. There’s been a resurgence of radio drama at KZSU and Mollineaux currently hosts a weekly show on Thursday nights from 9 to 10pm in which he airs a live radio drama each week for the first 30 minutes of his program.
Mollineaux explained to me over email how he became inspired to produce “Our American Cousin” for KZSU listeners and how radio drama is making a comeback at KZSU.
Jennifer Waits: What inspired you to do the radio drama?
Mark Mollineaux: It’s fascinating how humor changes through time. I don’t remember where I first read about the details of the situation, and how the biggest laugh line of the play allowed John Wilkes Booth to mask his gunshot– a laugh line which was “You sockdologizing old man-trap!” It’s so foreign, so meaningless, so strangely unfunny. It’s odd how it could mean so much then, and only perplex now.
I read through the complete play afterward, but found that among the quaint and fusty (weird plays on Americans’ love for ‘cobbler’, perfunctory parades of marriages…) there’s also deep veins of the truly funny and bizarre (Dundreary, the break-out comic star, is an absurd buffoon, an aristocrat prone to strange vocal tics and odd monologues about his inability to sneeze. It works about as well today as he did 147 years ago). Somehow, by being so old as to be wholly alien, its humor becomes completely fresh. And I knew we had to share this, somehow.
Waits: Can you tell me more about the live drama airing on your show?
Mollineaux: The weekly 9 PM radio play is something we’ve been kicking around at the station for some time; it seems just about everybody at the station has a love for the form. We’re going to pick and choose from different dramas and comedies of the Golden Age of Radio, but to be sure, we’re sure to return to “Quiet, Please!”– the unjustly forgotten horror anthology written by Wyllis Cooper. The scripts are perfect for small casts, and are brilliantly written; even amateurs can bring the atmosphere to life.
That said, switching between different styles and moods of radio drama will allow us an interesting challenge– a challenge in acting, a challenge in creating a mood through music, and a challenge in sound effects work. As a whole, the challenge of creating stories, characters, and images through sound alone. Even if we’re unlikely to match the intricacy of the original radio productions, it’s going to be a lot of fun, for us and for the listeners, to see how we deal with these challenges. And seriously, there are just so many great scripts, and it’s fantastic to bring them back to life.
Waits: Will the broadcast be archived?
Mollineaux: Nick & Noah, the KZSU DJs who star in Our American Cousin (and are slotted for quite a few guest appearances in the weekly radio play) have set up a repository on their website: http://nickandnoah.com/bufordjsharkley/ .
Just one dollar a month makes you a patron of Radio Survivor. Help us through our Patreon Campaign!