Review: ‘Radio Delirio’ Focuses on a Forgettable Man

Posted June 17, 2018 5:19 p.m. EDT

NEW YORK — At a piano concert, the performer always has a shadow that moves only when prompted by the score: the page-turner. This person is in full view, yet invisible — a situation the writer-performer Alessandro Magania likens to that of an immigrant quietly minding his or her business, or someone deliberately trying to escape attention.

In his play “Radio Delirio,” Magania narrates the tale of Cristian Leu, a man disguised as a page-turner working hard to not be noticed. But the heavy use of spy tropes only emphasizes how inert and uninvolving the tale is.

Magania starts by sitting next to a stool bench parked in front of an empty grand piano — the instrument merely is an outline of itself, the ghostly black frame resting on red carpet. (Simone Peretti did the starkly handsome production design.) Bracketing the central red square are a stage manager (Kim Macron) and a house manager (Mickey Solis), each one at a messy table. They read magazines, snack and chat with each other via their headsets.

The page-turner occasionally flips a page from the score, until he spaces out and messes up a cue. It’s not a big mistake, but it’s enough to draw attention. The next day, an audience member recognizes him — that was Leu, and we are about to get to know him.

Little action happens onstage, and everything is relayed via third-person storytelling that details how Leu keeps a low profile. Magania, Macron and Solis often describe surveillance-camera footage, for instance, which does not exactly make for a white-knuckled experience. Perhaps unsure of what to do during all this exposition, Magania breaks into dance moves. Classical pieces for piano, recorded by Jae Kyo Han, are piped throughout most of the play, as if this all took place during a recital.

We eventually gather a few things about Leu: He is a whistleblower on the run for exposing the so-called “monkey masks scandal”; he may have bought camping gear using the email address “balzac74-at-yahoo-dot-com”; and he likely is Romanian. His main trait is that he is very good at not sticking out. This allows Magania, an Italian-born New Yorker, to work in ideas about the integration of immigrants — this is the show’s most compelling and thought-provoking aspect, especially since it is not heavy-handed. Should foreigners and unauthorized immigrants try to fade into the background, for example? Is it even possible for them to do so?

Despite being at the Performing Garage, the longtime home of the media-savvy Wooster Group, and despite constant references to video and audio surveillance, “Radio Delirio” is fairly low-tech. Some of the best scenes have a homemade quality that may be partly attributed to director Geoff Sobelle (“Home,” “The Object Lesson”); the old-fashioned espionage vibe is more Hitchcock than “Mission: Impossible.” But the show struggles to make an impression: In a meta feat, “Radio Delirio” has pulled off a trick worthy of Cristian Leu himself.

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Additional Information:

“Radio Delirio” runs through June 23 at the Performing Garage, Manhattan; theperforminggarage.org. Running time: 1 hour.