The phrase "the sounds of Christmas" carries nasty connotations of jingling Muzak and the blaring of car alarms in overfilled toy-store parking lots. But the cast of "The Shangrila Trailer Park Radio Show" had something different in mind Saturday night at the Borders Books & Music outlet in Winter Park: a live taping of their demurely droll program that put the nuance in nativity.
Having treated local airwaves to their sly brand of Keillor-influenced humor for the past two summers, the members of the Shangrila Audio Theater were back to record their Yuletide-themed episode in Borders' suitably literary environment. On their previous visit to the store, coproducer Sean Keohane said, they had enacted a script in which an obnoxious author's promotional appearance descended into a full-fledged book-burning session. Raising the Fahrenheit to 451 degrees isn't a retailer's idea of positive PR, he agreed, but Christmas is a time of forgiveness.
Instead of setting copies of "Mein Kampf" alight, Saturday's recording session saw the show's stable of unabashedly Floridian characters -- amateur broadcasters who transmit their own low-power variety hour from a mobile-home community in Okechula -- hosting an on-air holiday party that was mired in the dim-witted chaos only the South can offer.
The most animated of the seven voice actors, Keohane backed up his cornpone vocal stylings with theatrical gestures as his Floyd Wingfield presided over the doomed celebration. Cohost Russ T. Luck (the relatively restrained Jim Howard) noted the absence of the trailer park's elderly shut-ins, who were allegedly the guests of honor.
"The shut-ins probably want to be fashionably late" was the proffered excuse.
Quiet, please; recording
Providing their own sound effects but resisting the urge to drop script pages on the floor in the accepted, Mercury Theater of the Air fashion (a messy habit Keohane says the group has kicked), the septet monopolized a cramped corner of the store's Cafe Espresso. Their attentive fans shared tables with murmuring shoppers who had stopped in to catch up on gift buying and stayed for the revue. Coffee machines gurgled on and off during the show's more subdued moments, and a loud beeping was heard every time a customer attempted to flee the premises with Dennis Rodman's memoirs stashed in his or her jacket. Have fun editing those out in postproduction, Mr. Keohane.
The intermittent distractions didn't impede the talented cast. Melanie Whipple was spot-on in her impersonation of Veronique Beauclaire, a romance adviser and French Marxist who greeted her listeners with the nonsensical salutation, "Bourgeois, malcontents!" Sean's brother, Padraic Keohane, employed a clipped dialect (one eerily redolent of cartoon canine Mr. Peabody) to portray Brent Panza, the trailer park's newsman and social critic. Working out childhood traumas by mounting exposÃ©s of "controversies" that mattered only to him, Panza further drew the ire of his neighbors by showing up early for the party and monopolizing its food table. As a journalist, let me just say this: direct hit.
Even more rewarding were the digs at Orlando life, including in-joke references to the Central Florida Theatre Alliance and the new necessity of dialing 407 to complete local calls.
"I don't know if we're used to listening anymore," Sean Keohane mused after the taping was completed. "It's not easy to get on the air anywhere."
He should know: In two years, his program has bounced around the dial between the public WMFE-FM (90.7) and its current home on Rollins College's WPRK-FM (91.5). Past live-performance sites have included the Disney Institute and the the CFTA's Theatre Garage. It's been a catch-as-catch-can endeavor, one whose pitfalls the Keohane brothers may not have foreseen as children, when their love of such vintage comedians as Jack Benny inspired them to make cassette recordings of routines with titles like "Idi Amin Sings for You."
At least they can't complain of competition. Radio dramas and comedies have become so scarce that even members of Sean Keohane's own cast were unfamiliar with Garrison Keillor -- until one stumbled across an episode of "A Prairie Home Companion" and rushed into rehearsal with the news that "Someone has stolen your idea, but watered it down for mass consumption!"
Keohane and his wife, Laura, who helps to write the program, say that "Shangrila" is going on hiatus until next summer. They'll be broadcasting from the beer tent during the next Orlando International Fringe Festival, but in the meantime their plans are focused on "Byron Orlock's Darkness Visible Mysteries," the satirical suspense drama they also produce. Two shows at once is a heavy work load, even for Orson Welles.
"The Shangrila Trailer Park Christmas" will be broadcast at 9 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 21, and 5 p.m. Friday, Dec. 24, on WPRK (the latter preceded by Darkness Visible at 4 p.m.). If you think you hear espresso brewing, please pretend not to notice.