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In Falls Church's 'Water Engine,' a Radio Play Is Brought to Life

Elisabeth Bloxam, a student at Westfield High School, reviews Falls Church's "The Water Engine."

It's hard to imagine a time before television. Today, TV brings us news, weather and entertainment. But not so long ago, the prime source of entertainment was the radio. Actors and sound-effects artists brought stories to life solely through sound. Last weekend, Falls Church High School took a trip back to that era, with its production of "The Water Engine."

The play, set in the 1930s, tells the story of Charles Lang (Eric Holl), an inventor who designs an engine that runs on water and fights two ruthless lawyers (played by Ian Mills and Alex Rock) to receive credit. The drama was written by playwright David Mamet and was staged as a radio show before moving to Broadway.

As Charles Lang, Holl was an almost constant stage presence. He was energetic and committed, and he managed to convey the growing desperation of his character. He was joined by Mills and Rock, as lawyers Morton Gross and Lawrence Obermann, respectively, who utilized powerful voices and high energy to create their menacing characters.

Some of the play's best moments showcased Lang's chemistry with the Wallaces (Sam Johnson and Erica Taylor), a father-daughter team with whom he had formed a special bond. As Bernice "Bernie" Wallace, Erica Taylor played a precocious young girl who could never remember to shut the cash register. Her performance was notable because of the believability of her character. Most of the actors were portraying middle-aged characters, but Taylor was able to distinguish her character's age through the childlike quality in her voice.

Although most actors gave strong performances, a few seemed to have trouble committing to their characters. Some actors delivered their lines with a curt, clipped tone that made it seem as if they couldn't relate to their characters.

One actress stood out for her excellent energy and commitment: Betsy Ryan, who took the potentially forgettable role of the soapbox speaker and turned it into a memorable and hilarious commentary on 1930s society.

The most impressive aspect of the production was the work by sound artists Alex Doak and Bill Miller, who were responsible for a majority of the noises and effects. They used techniques similar to those that created 1930s radio magic to provide the sound of walking feet, clicking typewriters and closing doors, all while in full view of the audience. The radio show effect was completed with a voiceover narration by Max Kosma and music by Mollie Dreisbach and David Vo.

Falls Church High presented a wonderful rendition of "The Water Engine," turning back the clock to a simpler time when all people had to do was close their eyes and listen.

By Washington Post Editors  |  February 12, 2009; 12:42 PM ET
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