I sway gently in a rocking chair, nestled underneath a fleece blanket. A mug of hot mint tea, still steaming, warms my hands as I direct my attention toward the Jubilee Public Access Radio morning broadcast. The host cordially welcomes his listeners, and begins by meandering through the brief and humble history of the town of Jubilee, Ohio. As he proceeds to the weather forecast, the host advises his listeners to tuck their pants into their boots to keep them dry amidst the deep snow. Unexpectedly, he addresses me directly, asking how I’m feeling. With a smile, I reply that I’m warm. We share a laugh, and he seems pleased that I’m staying inside. It is, after all, bitter cold outside. He explains that the snow has changed; it has become much louder, while the song of the town’s beloved cardinals has grown quieter. His voice betrays a twinge of melancholy, providing me with the first of many glimpses of a broken heart burdened with grief.
Good Morning is a one-on-one remote experience from Under the Bed, a festival of six phone encounters by Candle House Collective. Created by Evan Neiden and directed by John Ertman, Good Morning lasts approximately an hour, occurs entirely over the phone, and is accessible to anyone in the United States or Canada with a text-enabled mobile phone. Good Morning is moderately interactive, but, unlike Next Time and Black Box, participants have no agency to change the story’s outcome. In this experience, participants tune into a simulated radio broadcast, during which the host tells of how simmering tension between longtime residents of Jubilee, Ohio, and newcomers to the town eventually came to a boil, leading to the small town’s undoing. Audience members must be 18 years or older to participate, and the company provides a safety phrase for participants to use if they no longer wish to continue the encounter.
Good Morning toes the line between two power themes. On one hand, it highlights the sobering realities of small-town gentrification. The audience is asked to grapple with the question of when progress becomes a problem, and that line quickly blurs as the story progresses. On the other hand, this experience functions as a parable warning about the dangers of clinging too tightly to the past, and of mentally segregating a community into us versus them. Participants watch helplessly as the host’s stubborn hatred for the newcomers escalates, ultimately leading him to incite violence against them. It raises the question: How can you dialogue with someone whose mind you cannot change?
This experience is complicated, layered, and forces the audience to sit in the gray area between right and wrong. It reminds participants that there are at least two sides to every story, and which side someone believes depends on how much they trust the storyteller. Which side do you choose when both sides have transgressed? This experience’s ambiguity and lack of a definite hero or villain is uncomfortable but necessary. In many ways it mirrors the complexities of real-life conflict, where storybook endings don’t often exist. The true tragedy is found in both sides’ unwillingness to build bridges, instead opting to burn them.
Using a faux radio broadcast as the medium through which to tell the story is a clever choice, though not without its challenges. News outlets are notorious for favoring one side of a story over another, and so it feels appropriate that Good Morning is told as though it were a radio broadcast. However, given that this form of communication normally only functions one way, the moments of interactivity feel inconsistent with the medium as a whole. It would have been helpful if the host would have treated participants as though they had called in to the station instead of addressing them out of the blue. Candle House Collective’s shows are known for their powerful moments of choice and interactivity, but that is the primary area in which Good Morning falls short. The conversation often feels more like an interruption of the narrative than a natural, driving force behind it. Two brief interludes of lilting 1950s lounge music bookend the bulk of the narrative, reinforcing the radio-show premise. Unfortunately, the music itself was distorted. Though the challenge of incorporating music into a phone-based experience is understandable, the distortion ended up causing the music to be more of a distraction from the experience than a supplement to it.
Good Morning is a one-man show, with Jack Drummond playing the role of the radio host, Charles Alwick. Drummond’s entire demeanor — his tone, his inflections, the music he chooses to play — feels like a nostalgic throwback to the 1950s, despite the fact that the character was born in the late 1970s. Given that Good Morning’s narrative describes events that took place almost entirely within Alwick’s lifetime, the choice to characterize him as though he were from the 1950s initially seems backwards. However, the 1950s are often romanticized and blindly regarded with great nostalgia as the “good old days.” What better persona, then, to use for a man who can’t seem to let go of his idealized childhood? Drummond displays exceptional talent in his passionate delivery of the show’s final monologue; with each word, he succeeds in capturing the intensity of Alwick’s hatred, desperation, and despair. Though his acting is impressive when uninterrupted, Drummond still has room to grow in his ability to improvise and interact with participants in a way that feels natural.
Good Morning is one of several shows in Under the Bed that uses audience-supplied props to enhance an otherwise fully-remote experience. Prior to the beginning of the encounter, Candle House Collective instructs participants to brew a cup of something warm (like hot cocoa or herbal tea), and to have that beverage on hand for the encounter. This clever creative choice immerses audience members in the experience before it even starts; it feels natural to brew a cup of something warm before tuning into a morning radio broadcast. This also sets participants up to be just cozy enough to be caught off guard when the story takes a dark turn. The gradual cooling of the beverage also perfectly parallels the transition in tone from the initial nostalgic warmth to the chilling melancholy at the show’s close.
Good Morning is a much-needed exploration of the complexity of progress and the conflict that comes with it. Though this show’s execution is weaker than the other shows in the Under the Bed series, its message remains important. It challenges the audience to examine their own biases, and dares them to believe that being “right” isn’t as simple as it sounds. Good Morning focuses more on raising important questions than providing answers, and is just one in a growing list of shows that proves that Candle House Collective is a master of exploring the gray areas of the human experience.