James Reiss, Pulitzer Prize nominated (Ten Thousand Good Mornings) and National Book Award nominated (The Breathers) poet. On the Public Radio Exchange.
Have you ever pinched yourself and wondered where you've been all your life?
Listening to "11 Central Ave" ("Ave" rhymes with "have," as in "They have game!") was a wake-up call for me. From "Mork and Mindy" to "Friends" (which was on one occasion idiotically compared to "11 Central Ave"), TV sitcoms have bored me woozy. Now here comes Susan Shepherd, the mover and shaker of "11 Central Ave," and I'm no longer a snooze-button-pusher. I'm up, up, and away like Superman for a four-minute hundred-mile's worth of hip comedy and hilarious high-end satire. Nothing on public or commercial radio reaches higher, more street-smart comedic ground than her production series, "11 Central Ave." In terms of sheer wit and with-it-ness, "11 Central Ave" tramples on the competition.
Although we never learn the surname of "11 Central Ave"'s family, they get together over breakfast as The Paradigmatic Post-Nuclear American Family of Our Decade. Forget antediluvian notions about "Life with Father"! Fifty-year-old Papa Nat is a de-fanged out-of-work ad exec turned house hubby. Wifey Christina is the feisty, reluctant breadwinner, straight out of an Ambien commercial; she's mama to 14-year-old Anneliese, and big sis to libertarian, Rick, who has a graduate degree in poli-sci but works at Kinko's. There are others who wander in and out of this with-it kitchen.
Episode 30 deals with Christina's phone conversations with a BlackBerry customer-service representative in India. Raga music enhances the piece, along with a smattering of Hindi and Urdu -- Christina is fed up with Nat's being "mono-cultural." She wants to broaden America's "lily-white horizons," to embrace the Hindustani sub-continent rising like a colossus.
Other recent episodes include a black rapper, Dante, who quotes "Romeo and Juliet" to Anneliese; Rick, who has donated his sperm (at "fifty bucks a pop"), but gets rejected from his upscale sperm bank for lack of takers; and Nat, who gives a standout reading of Wilfred Owens's great war poem, "Dulce et Decorum Est," for National Poetry Month.
Last week we learned that DNA evidence linked 11 Central Ave liberated working wife and super-mom, Christine, and her live-in Libertarian brother Rick, to a prominent slave-profiteering family. Because of her ancestors, Christine realized she was an "African-American white woman novelist slave trader"!
This week over the breakfast table we learn that, in 11 Central Ave's front yard, Christine has installed a sign apologizing for her forebears' misdeeds. Although her bro feels differently, Christine is so wracked with guilt that she wants to atone for "300 years of shame" by planting community gardens in housing projects.
The repartee following her declaration is lickety-split. It includes Rick's statement, "We've chopped off African-Americans' economic prospects at the knees. They don't need apologies. They need opportunity and money"; 14-year-old Anneliese's statement, "Being white means we have an endless stream, of things to apologize for"; and Papa/Hubby Nat's statement, "Maybe people should just stop doing things that they're later gonna have to apologize for" -- whereupon everyone contributes to a serio-comic chorus of apologies, including an African-American family friend, Dante, who apologizes for Snoop Dog.
Do these apologies sound familiar? From Bill Clinton and Senator George Allen, to Michael Richards and Don Imus, everybody's "sorry"!
What "The Sopranos" did for the Mafia on TV, "11 Central Ave" is doing for twenty-first century American pop culture on public radio."11 Central Ave" junkies applaud it for its seamless scripts, its terrific pacing and direction, with not-to-be-outdone actors. It advertises itself as "a radio comic strip." I prefer to think of it as the 800 lb. gorilla in the room -- which is fitting, considering that it comes from Chicago Public Radio and 800 lb. Productions
Reviews from Public Radio Exchange
“A polished, extremely well crafted verbal comic machine gun of everyday life. This is a very good piece whose ping pong pace builds and weaves and knows when just to stop. Captures the rapid non sequiturs of a family on the move which always in a strange yet absurd way make perfect sense. The men are great in this, kind of like a mildly inebriated greek chorus. Again there is great skill in that they don't go overboard which gives it a multi dimensional feel of both being tongue in cheek and believably alive."
I came on this episode out of the blue - didn't know anything about the series and was doing about 5 other things at the same time until I found myself staring at the computer while listening.
Moody has written an incredibly compelling and credulous episode - I can only hope the tenor of this piece will echo throughout the series. It's real without being trite. I could hear it in the middle of just about anything.
We also like WBEZ-FM (91.5)’s short-but-sweet “11 Central Ave.,” a fresh and often funny four-minute radio drama that focuses on an extended Chicago family dealing with issues such as marriage, teen sex, and unemployment. Written by women and performed by actors that make WKQX’s “The Morning Fix” sound like the joke it is, “11 Central” airs in the midst of NPR’s “Morning Edition” each Friday at 8:35 a.m.
Torey Malatia, President of Chicago Public Radio
I'm constantly amazed by our Chicago audience, and your understanding of them so far away in Boston. Counter to the conventional wisdom, the public radio audience is not resistant to well-crafted innovation and experimentation. More striking is that our audience expects us to be striving to be creative, to work harder to enrich their listening and living experiences. When your serial 11 Central Avenue is described by listeners in ever increasing numbers as an anticipated event within Morning Edition, during radio's most competitive time slot, something significant has happened. When those listeners in our area who live within the range of other stations running the NPR feed prefer ours specifically to hear your brief dramatic metaphor of modern life, you can take pride in a significant accomplishment. I hope 11's success continues apace. And I admire your insight that led to an enhancement that our audience enjoys.