‘A War of the Worlds’ reimagined for a new millennium

 

Photo courtesy of Theatre in the Dark War of the Worlds production.
Photo courtesy of Theatre in the Dark War of the Worlds production.

3 Stars

Is it an audiobook? Is it a podcast? Is it a radio show? Maybe yes but then again maybe no. Actually it is Theatre in the Dark’s virtual audio drama.  Perhaps it is partially inspired by Orson Welles’ memorable 1938 radio broadcast of “A War of the Worlds” based on H.G. Wells’ iconic novel about a Martian invasion of the Earth.

Congratulations to this innovative production company whose mission is to create theater performance based on sound and utilization of Internet technology to reach out and engage audiences during these trying times.

This updated 21st century version of “A War of the Worlds” adapted by director Corey Bradberry and Mack Gordon, is set primarily in and around the Chicago area. (Ironically Bradberry and Gordon met at an improv class at Second City which is now up for sale).

The original book was centered in London at the end of the 19th century. Then, the 1938 Mercury Theatre on the Air production was based in mid-twentieth century New Jersey. So with so much global turmoil in 2020, why not project a Midwest interstellar invasion into the mix.

The story itself is not complicated. Basically, it deals with peoples’ mostly nonchalant, then chaotic reaction to the presence of an extraterrestrial artifact. First thought to be an asteroid, it turns out to be the beginning of an invasion fleet from Mars.

Theatre in the Dark’s production is not about the story, but rather more about the dramatic performance in the telling of the tale which this company does very well.

It’s a study in contrast that depicts the laid back lives of many city dwellers who are going about their daily business while the first reports of odd occurrences in the seemingly remote village of Bourbonnais, 55 miles south of Chicago, begin to reach the downtown area.

Tension mounts as complacency leads to panic and then to mayhem.

It is probably safe to say that the majority of today’s theater goers have had little or no experience with traditional radio drama. The genre reached its commercial peak sometime in the early 1940’s then limped along into the beginning of the 1950’s.

Indeed, most of us are children of the television age for whom this style of entertainment is an oddity or curiosity. That makes this presentation much more interesting as it encourages performers and audiences alike to explore a nearly forgotten, or at least, underrepresented art form.

Because the audience, listening at home via Zoom, is using sound only with no visual cues such as facial expressions, gestures, or body language, the actors must be extra creative in the verbal projection of their characters.

This is a chance for them to exercise their emotional muscles audibly in a slightly over-the-top way, even flirting with full-on melodrama. Conversely, the audience is challenged to listen closely for the information needed to paint mental images of the situations and the shifting environment.

The construction of one’s mental picture is aided greatly by the sound design offered by Ross Burlingame and Corey Bradberry. They provide continuous, thoughtful, sound effects meshed with an effective, original music score by Ben Zucker.

A major question is why do this live over multiple performances? Tickets are needed for each performance. Why not simply record it?

I imagine part of the answer has to do with the fact that this is a live theater company and that is what they do.

However, one of the unique aspects of this particular production that makes it different from a traditional radio drama is that the actors themselves are not in the same room. They are not necessarily even on the same continent.

Each performer logged in remotely from various locations around the world using their own often makeshift home studios. In this way they are literally pushing the boundaries of what we think of as theater.

What is missing, of course, is the interplay between the audience and the actors. The feedback loop that brings energy to live performance is an element that is difficult to duplicate at a distance.

The freshness of multiple performances will rely on the extent to which the actors innovate and improvise as they discover new opportunities of expression.

But not having been in a theater for over six months, it was exciting to prepare for the eight o’clock “curtain.” This was accomplished by setting the lighting and adjusting my laptop and speakers in the living room, ready to provide an optimal listening experience.

Then, it was settling down with a glass of wine in eager anticipation of this unique event.

As a way to celebrate this Halloween season I encourage you to gather your “pod mates” and a few socially distanced friends (wherever they may be) to enjoy this performance online then consider a Zoom call together to  discuss the play or perhaps devise a disaster plan of your own.

Details:  Theatre in the Dark players Mack Gordon, Elizabeth McCoy, Alex Morales, Ming Hudson, Robinson J. Cyprian, and Lauren Ezzo will be performing “A War of the Worlds” through November 21, 2020 via Zoom. Running time is 90 minutes with a 10 minute intermission. For tickets and information visit  Theatreinthedark/tickets.

Reno Lovison

RENOWEB.NET

Nothing cheesy about ‘The Mousetrap’ at Court Theatre

David Cerda, Allen Gilmore and Kate Fry in Mousetrap at Court Theatre. (Michael Brosilow photo)
David Cerda, Allen Gilmore and Kate Fry in Mousetrap at Court Theatre. (Michael Brosilow photo)

4 stars

Many people familiar with Airbnb these days can probably appreciate issues related to inviting visitors into your home or at least dealing with travelling public.

In this popular Agatha Christie mystery, five distinctly eccentric individuals have each booked their stay on the inaugural weekend opening of Monkswell Manor, a country guesthouse owned and operated by Mollie and Giles Ralston (Kate Fry, Allen Gilmore).

Continue reading “Nothing cheesy about ‘The Mousetrap’ at Court Theatre”

Reflection of Misdeeds and Misbehavior

 

RECOMMENDED

“The Picture of Dorian Gray,” playing now at City Lit Theatre, is a world premiere adaptation by Paul Edwards of the Oscar Wilde’s story.

The story of Dorian Gray is a tale of moral decay and self-loathing, demonstrating the extent to which some people will go to maintain a façade and avoid looking at their true selves.

Dorian Gray (Javier Ferreira) and James Vane (Ryan Leonard) in  The Picture of Dorian Gray. Steve Graue photo
Dorian Gray (Javier Ferreira) and James Vane (Ryan Leonard) in The Picture of Dorian Gray. Steve Graue photo

In this version, set in the 1970’s and 80’s, the young Dorian Gray (Javier Ferreira) exclaims to Henry Wotton(Scott Olson) that he will gladly sell his soul to keep his youthful exterior rather than suffer the ravages of physical aging.

Directed by Andrea J. Dymond, the play covers a roughly 20 year period over which time Gray seems to retain his youthful appearance while those around him either lose their attractiveness or their life. Their maladies and misadventures seem somehow mysteriously have to do either directly or indirectly with their association with the title character.

While content with his own good looks, Gray fantasizes that a photo of him taken by Basil Hallward (Gabriel Fries) early in the story has not fared as well over the years and is essentially reflecting back the effects of his misdeeds and misbehavior.

This is a drama in which the dialogue is the essence of the story. The cast was a little unsteady and awkward in the first act but thankfully gained steam as the story progressed. In Act Two Ferreira hit his stride and began to own the part.

The obviously capable Scott Olson confidently dominated the action but at times seemed to lose his compass speaking upstage, apparently forgetting that an actor can speak intimately while still projecting to the audience.

Having the actors join the theater audience during a play-within-a-play was charming and effective.

The rest of the time they could spread out a bit more and employ some meaningful stage business so that they are not simply standing over one another or huddling in little groups.

This version offers a more contemporary explanation for the iconic picture reference but in doing so sacrifices some of the sci-fi or Victorian horror of the original.

Experienced theater goers and Oscar Wilde fans may enjoy this adaptation of the classic because of some inside references to the life of the author himself and to the clever alternate handling of the infamous picture but it may be a bit tedious for some.

Chicago Theater & Arts fans might want to consider a visit to the Chicago Art Institute to visit the Ivan Albright portrait painted for the Oscar-winning movie adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s novel.

DETAILS:  “The Picture of Dorian Gray” is Paul Edwards’s world premiere adaptation of the Oscar Wilde’s story directed by Andrea J. Dymond running now through April 15, 2018 at City Lit Theatre, 1020 W. Bryn Mawr Avenue, Chicago (Inside Edgewater Presbyterian Church).  For ticket and other information call (773) 293-3682 and visit citylit.org.

Reno Lovison

For more shows visit TheatreInChicago

 

 

Scientific moral dilemma bumps against friendship and ambition

RECOMMENDED

Two doctoral candidates are compelled to examine their morals, their friendship and their futures as they re-examine the data that has driven their scientific careers for the past six years.

Adam Poss (Arvind Patel) and Priya Mohanty (Sanam Shah) in 'Queen' at Victory Gardens. Liz Lauren Photo
Adam Poss (Arvind Patel) and Priya Mohanty (Sanam Shah) in ‘Queen’ at Victory Gardens. Liz Lauren Photo

Priya Mohanty (Sanam Shah), a statistician, and Darci Nalepa (Ariel Spiegel), an apiologist, are on the verge of presenting scientific evidence proving that pesticides are responsible for colony collapse disorder, a worldwide epidemic causing honey bees to abandon their hives and disappear.

The problem could potentially threaten the food supply and the very existence of life on this planet.

The two women have been the backbone of the soon to be published findings conducted on behalf of a liberal California university research lab headed by Stephen Spencer (Dr. Philip Hayes) who has his own professional ambitions that rely on the cooperation of his two junior associates.

Even though the play is intelligently written by Madhuri Shekar and directed by Joanie Schultz, “Queen” has the potential to get bogged down in its own dialogue.

Luckily in the hands of this capable cast, this premier performance avoids becoming too technical and laborious and, if anything, at times sounds a bit like an episode of CSI some city or another.

Adam Poss(Arvind Patel) lightens the entire mood of the production and helps keeps the story moving. Arvind is a successful New York derivatives trader and Sanam’s current candidate for marriage. He is concerned more with enjoying life and far less with global environmental issues or the associated moral challenges.

Their relationship has been mutually arranged by the couple’s parents, on the basis that their two grandfathers played golf together in India. On their first date Arvid is explaining to Sanam, his decision to move “all-in” on an opponent during a Texas Hold’em poker game.

The scene is genius and insightful on the part of the playwright as it helps define Arvind’s character while providing an opportunity for the two to bond over a statistical observation.

This play is very millennial. It is filled with cell phones, laptops and cultural diversity while dealing with women’s career issues, relationship issues and environmental issues that are all wrapped up in a very smart package.

Shekar considers the conflicts and uneasy alliances between the academic scientific community and commercial enterprise. It’s timelessness is the moral struggle that reinvents itself in every generation, testing our humanity.

Details: ‘Queen’ is at Victory Gardens Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln Avenue, Chicago, through May 17, 2017. For tickets and more information call (773) 871-3000) or visit Victory Gardens.

By Reno Lovison

(Guest reviewer Reno Lovison produces business videos. His interest in theater began very young. He studied with the Jack & Jill Players Children Theater and earned his Equity Card appearing in several professional Chicago productions at the Goodman Theatre, Mill Run, Melody Top and Ivanhoe. Reno does content writing, blogging and business articles and has authored two non-fiction books. See business video at Renoweb.)