Hilarious and haunted: A Christmas play

"The Colbern County Radio Broadcast Interruption: A Modern Ghost Story" is written by Nic Olson and will be performed at 7 p.m. Thursday through Saturday at the ICT Warehouse Theatre. It's a spooky tale filled with spine-tingling moments and belly laughs, just in time for the holidays.

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December 7, 2022 - 2:27 PM

Rhiannon Jordan and Ben Olson play radio DJs navigating twists and turns of a caller trapped in a haunted house in “The Colbern County Radio Broadcast Interruption: A Ghost Story,” performed tonight through Saturday at the ICT Warehouse Theater. The play was written by Piqua’s Nic Olson. Photo by Vickie Moss

Some of the best Christmas tales are spooky stories. Think: “A Christmas Carol” or “The Nightmare Before Christmas.”

You can add “The Colbern County Radio Broadcast Interruption: A Modern Ghost Story” to that list. It’s a terrifically terrifying twist on a haunted Christmas, written and directed by Piqua resident Nic Olson.

The Iola Community Theatre Warehouse troupe offers performances at 7 tonight through Saturday at the ICT Theatre, 203 S. Jefferson Ave. 

The play is a modern take on a classic radio show, “but I wanted something weirder,” Olson said.

Olson initially conceived part of the idea as a potential podcast. He’s written plays before, when he was a student at Allen Community College. When another ICT board member asked him to take charge of a performance, he combined the podcast idea with a short story.

It’s a story of light and sound. Most actors appear as shadows, hidden behind three lighted panels. When an actor appears, a white light silhouettes their character. When no actor is in the panel, it displays whatever color fits the mood of the scene. When things are calm, it’s green. When things go awry, well, that’s when it gets weird.

Just two actors are seen in person, with a brief appearance from a third near the end of the show. Rhiannon Jordan and Ben Olson portray radio DJs, ready to relax by allowing callers to phone in with the hottest gossip and rumors about the latest sighting of Big Foot — “They prefer Big Folk.”

The snarky banter between Jordan and Ben Olson is perfect for the classic odd-couple pairing, “Jamie” and “Mike.” She’s frantic, skeptical and exasperated. He casually tosses one-liners and is a staunch Big Foot supporter.

Jordan also serves as assistant director and has been integral in pulling the show together, Nic Olson said.

Ben is Nic’s brother. Initially, Nic didn’t plan to cast his brother, but when he asked Ben to read the script with other characters, he soon realized Ben was perfect in the role. It was the right move.

In “The Colbern County Radio Broadcast Interruption,” radio DJs Riannon Jordan and Ben Olson take a call from a frantic Morgan Lea, shown in the background in silhouette. Photo by Vickie Moss

THE RADIO call-in night is interrupted by a bizarre call from “Kelly,” played with the right touch of sweet innocence and desperation by Morgan Lea. She’s haunted by her failure as an EMT and discovers a mysterious door in her kitchen. When she walks through the door she enters a mystery filled with more doors and hidden rooms that take her through different time periods as she’s chased by an unseen force.

The radio hosts are tasked with gathering information phone call by phone call and sorting it all out for their listeners through a maze of twists and turns.

It seems the house holds secrets of the disappearance of a couple from two years earlier. Nosy neighbor Helen — delightfully portrayed by ICT newcomer Diana Dashnaw whose silhouette shows the outline of a bathrobe and cigarette — calls into the radio show to describe the scene in graphic detail.

Alison Fees plays a serious deputy who may have an illicit tie to a certain radio personality. 

The radio show also has a series of wacky callers played by Wayne Stephens, Cole Moyer, River Hess and Tiffany Hooper. 

Three children — Mat Olson, Winston Jordan and Lanie Mileham — play the shadows of younger versions of characters who share their own creepy stories.

AFTER intermission, the radio show returns for a Christmas Eve special. It’s 10 days after Kelly’s disappearance, and the whole town is obsessed with the mystery. 

Up on a rooftop, Moyer kicks off the second half with a rocket-launcher and a provocative social commentary, both aimed at “that red-suited tyrant shaming children for generations.” 

Merry Christmas.

Another fascinating section comes via a “news break” with a reporter played by Connie Brown, who recaps the events surrounding Kelly’s disappearance. If it sounds like Brown has the perfect — and familiar — radio voice, that’s because she spent decades working as an actual DJ, including a popular morning news program in Kansas City. For those of us from a certain era in the Midwest, it’s a fun bit of nostalgia.

Jenna Morris and Hess appear as part of the news break, while Tom Norris has a voice-over role. Bryan Johnson also does voice work as the creepy monster.

No spoilers, but the show ends with a surprise twist by ICT veteran Mandy Moyer, who has secret connections of her own.

The play offers genuine spooky moments that make your skin crawl, while also making you laugh out loud. The cast rises to the challenge of playing only in shadows, making the most of their voices and body movements.

TICKETS are $10 for adults and $5 for students, and can be purchased online at iolacommunitytheatre.org or at the door. 

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