Based on our many unofficial surveys of Miami residents, public radio listeners are a rare breed in South Florida. For all most Miamians know, Terry Gross is the name of a Garbage Pail Kid, Selected Shorts are the hot pants on sale at Forever 21, and All Things Considered is just a phrase old people use.
And that's a shame, because all those suckers are missing out on the brilliance that is Radiolab.
On the radio and via their free podcasts, Radiolab hosts Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich present the sounds of science: slowly degrading audio tape, the story of a chimpanzee who learned to be human, a brain-damaged young man who never realized he spoke at half speed until he heard a recording of himself singing. The stories inject what might otherwise be bland lab results with humanity. And last night, Abumrad and Krulwich brought those stories to the Fillmore stage.
At first, we were skeptical about the show. How would a radio program translate in front of a live audience? But when we got to the Fillmore, anticipation was high. The auditorium was near capacity. (Then again, Radiolab's run in Miami was meant to last two nights, but then was scaled back to one... plus, everyone we spoke with at the show had either won or been gifted their tickets, so it seems like it may have been a struggle to fills seats.)
Things got off to a good start when accompanying comedian Demetri Martin rolled out his unique brand of humor. He projected famous quotes about darkness onto a screen on the center of the stage, then, with a second click from his remote control, he added what he called the underlying "context." For example, to Walt Whitman's words, "Every moment of light and dark is a miracle," he added, "I guess you could say I have a pretty low threshold for miracles." Funny stuff.
Abumrad and Krulwich got a warm welcome as they came out to begin their part of the show. They projected eyes of various origins on a large screen, asking us to guess their owners. Abumrad explained that even "Chuck D.," his pet name for Charles Darwin, had wondered how the magnificently complex eye could have come to be, casting doubt on his theories of evolution. So, to support their late homey's hard work, the duo created, with the help of the dancers and some very basic props, a large model of an eye on stage - one that actually came to "see" right before our eyes. The nimble yet goofy dancers brought laughs and eerie imagery to the process, simulating spindly jellyfish appendages, for example. But we found that the extra stimulation made the science involved harder to follow.
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The show's next two segments more closely resembled the radio show we know and love. From a station of sound manned by Abumrad himself emanated the voices of two blind men, who strongly disagreed on what it meant to be blind. One believed that trying to imagine what the world and its people looked like without being able to see was akin to living in a world of lies. The other was so confident that he "saw" the world perfectly that he could describe his wife's face down to the most minute detail, and was totally confident about performing household tasks, like single-handedly repairing the roof, several stories above the ground.
Finally, we were sent into a scary, real-life space odyssey where two astronauts nearly meet gruesome deaths while trapped outside their ship. From utter blackness, the sun rose in an instant (at their speed and position, 16 days passed inside one of ours), raising the temperature high enough to bake both men alive, if it weren't for their space suits. Here, the dancers' silhouettes, simulating bodies floating in space, were brilliantly cohesive with the story at hand. We shuddered, trying on the prospect of boiling inside a space suit at 400 degrees, hundreds of miles away from the earth.
We're grateful Radiolab Live made it to Miami, but Abumrad and Krulwich -- who are just as amazing and wonderfully nerdy in real life -- found their true callings in radio. Even though it was fun to watch a stage full of giant eyeballs dancing frantically with one another, we'd rather take our dose of Radiolab, well, in the dark.