The Jack Slate Radio Show

Ego Productions at Disjecta, 116 NE Russell, 784-4904, Fri-Sun 8 pm through April 25, $10

W ith its debut Portland production, The Jack Slate Radio Show, the fresh-from-Chicago Ego Productions have defied conventional theater to introduce themselves as the smart, quirky new kid on the block.

Slate's tongue-in-cheek detective story is played out as a radio drama, with the actors planted in front of a lone microphone. Jack Slate (played with charming, oblivious bravado by Nathan Markiewicz) investigates a murder that took place during his favorite radio show (yes, there's a secondary radio drama going on in the midst of this staged one; if nothing else, Slate has invented the genre of post-post-modern theatrical radio drama comedy), interacting with a varied assortment of citizens, informants, and crooks. It's the audience's job to imagine the visuals, with help from clever sound effects via Rocco George and Cole Pensinger, whose physical comedy largely justifies the decision to make Slate a play rather than an actual radio drama.

Slate's eight actors handle over 16 roles disarmingly well, changing voices and mannerisms as fast as the breakneck plot. The cast is uniformly excellent, with Chris Woolsey invariably stealing every scene he's in, Ricardo Delgado's versatility keeping things unpredictable, and Will Lund's equally satisfying compatriot and henchman. Actress Eden Nelson might have gotten the real shaft here, though--given not one but two painfully annoying characters to play. Luckily she's talented enough that it's still entertaining to watch her perform.

The biggest hurdle for Slate is an uneven script by Tai Palmgren and director Lizz Leiser. (Most notably, the astonishingly ill-conceived opening has the cast playing voice actors, who then play Slate's characters, but play them in flashbacksÉ ugh.) Once the script stops fucking around with overtly theatrical obsequiousness, however, the play hits a thoroughly enjoyable, slapstick-y stride. Leiser trusts her actors, and for good reason--all of them effortlessly overcome the rocky script. Slate might not be great theater, but watching its actors is--and while this production might not be a quintessential whiz-bang debut, it bodes exceedingly well for Ego Productions' future. ERIK HENRIKSEN