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A Listener Reviews: The Resistible Rise of JR Brinkley

The Resistible Rise of JR Brinkley

Episodes: 4

Length: 30-35 minutes

I’ve listened to… the whole production

The Premise: The Resistible Rise of JR Brinkley is a stage play adapted to audiodrama format to help combat the challenge that 2020 has been for the performing arts. It is a Brechtian play (which, if you are like me and need to Google that, means incorporating direct discussion with the audience, historical parallels to modern events, and fourth wall breaking). It details the mostly true story of JR Brinkley, medical fraudster turned radio host turned politician in a story that is eerily familiar to the modern US political landscape.

My Review: This was a fantastic listen overall. It is not what you typically expect when you are used to full cast audiodramas, but understanding the format helped me appreciate the story. The story is told through a conversational narrator, dramatized portions, and interviews with the writer and outside experts. The action may pause for a brief aside to explain an artistic choice, a historical moment, or some other tidbit that deepens the story. It was like listening to an annotated history or a well dramatized documentary. Not only was it entertaining, but it definitely helped deepen my understanding of certain concepts and themes in US history.

The story itself is almost too bizarre to believe. There is a lot more talk about goat testicles than I ever expected to hear in my life. However, that is where the maxim “truth is stranger than fiction” thrives. The parallels to recent events, as I mentioned, are so strong that some of Brinkley’s speeches are edited to incorporate more recent rhetoric and, frankly, they can be hard to distinguish from the original statements. The work does not shy away from the ugly sides of history, not in its depiction of Brinkley as a greedy fraud, nor in the frank depiction of the accepted antisemitism of the time. I think what stuck with the most as I listened was the balance between the absurd and the distressing. On the one hand, I was often in shock at the things that were done, said, and accepted. Were this not a true story, it would probably stay in that balance between comedy and disbelief where the absurd often resides. However, it did happen. It continues to happen.

From a more technical perspective, the production is crisp and clear. They incorporate country music, including adaptations of country classics and contemporaneous political songs. The songs are ear catching and serve to provide transitions, exposition, and additional context for the play. It is interesting how the start of country winds through this already odd story, and it provides yet another way to deepen one’s understanding of the cultural context that led to such events. The discussions with experts on these topics serves to provide intriguing and educational facts that accentuate the complexity of the story overall.

Listening to this story was an experience on multiple levels. It is an intriguing story. It educated me in some cultural and historical contexts that I was not very familiar (not being a country music fan or at all knowledgeable about Kansas politics in the 1920s). It prompted reflection on current events and trends seen in my country today. It did a lot in its just over two hour runtime.

This is not a traditional audiodrama, nor do I think it set out to be. But it was an experience to listen to. 2020 has been hard on everyone this year, and the performing arts have been hit exceptionally hard. I am really encouraged to see some people turning to other avenues to continue sharing their work, though I hope we soon come to a time where we can all return to the theater seats and hear, see and experience it together again. Until that time, however, I strongly encourage you to keep your ears open for great productions like this. If you want to listen to a wonderfully made play, look them up and listen in.

You can find them here: Untitled Theater