Theatre Mirror Reviews - "wAR OF THE wORLDS"

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note: entire contents copyright 1998 by Larry Stark

"War of the Worlds"

Directed by Davis Robinson

Set Design by Susan Zeeman Rogers
Light Design by Michael J. Patterson
Costume Design by Seth Bodie
Theremin by John Hindmarsh
Shadow Puppets by Libby Marcus
Wigs Styled by Will Harrell
Hair & Makeup Design by Rachel Padula
Production Manager Shona Mitchell

Larry Coen
Robert Deveau
Chris Doubek
Mike Farrell
Elyse Garfinkel
Lauren Hallal
Mimi Jo Katano
Philip Smith
Lisa Tucker
Aleksandre Vranic

The Beau Jest Moving Theatre's new production "War of The Worlds" illustrates all three meanings of the word "moving": 1) this is a touring group that plays dates all around the country and the world, and in fact they are not doing this show in their Piano Factory home, but have moved it to the Emerson Studio Theatre at 69 Brimmer Street; 2) the show makes intensive use of mime, movement and dance to get their message across; and 3) the show moves audiences, mostly to laughter, but to new realizations about their subject, and perhaps even to think.

The set, designed by Susan Zeeman Rogers, is in the swirling, Flash Gordon/Art Deco/"FutureWASm" style of classic old sci-fi. John Hindmarsh performs musical and sound effects on a real live theremin. Seth Bodie's costumes reproduce many "futuristic" styles, from moon-boots to cellophane minidresses.

The cornerstone of part one is the famous Halloween radio broadcast based on H.G. Welles' novel. The ten-member cast --- none of whom remains one character long, though many characters turn up again and again --- re-enact that night in three different ways. They portray actors from The Mercury Theater On The Air and their director Orson Wells as they prepared and then as they performed the radioplay. They also re-enact scenes from that play in live action, and scenes depicting the hysteria that show caused among many of its listeners. Periodically the snippets from Howard Koch's radioplay are amplified by quotations from Welles' original novel.

The cast whips around the in-the-round space through four entrances, and whips from realistic to abstract to satirical means at the flick of an eyelash. There is shadow-puppetry by Libby Marcus, dance patterns of several styles, gymnastic turns, and personal narration. The world situation is sketched in: Hitler was coming to power when the show aired; the radio broadcast of the Hindenburg disaster, which the cast mimes, was an early proof of radio's power to influence people with on-the-spot news. Styles of presentation from old MovieTone News clips are folded into the mix.

While Part One, the program says, is "the past" Part Two is "the future". The cornerstone here is the circular trip visitors took around the inside of the Perisphere at the 1938 World's Fair, where grandiously inaccurate predictions of things "as far into the future as 1976!" were spouted everywhere ("Cars will drive themselves, so you can read your newspaper on the way to work").

In this section Will Harrell's wigs, hair and makeup by Rachel Padula, and Seth Bodie's "futuristic" costumes combine with "clever" choreography out of industrial promo films. These shallow predictions of the future are contrasted with a final view, showing four data-entry workers, squarely cubicled and at the mercy of their vdt's, facing the unknown beyond the Year 2000 meltdown.

The question of what the future meant, and means, never seemed a subject for startlingly original theater. Until the present.


"The War of The Worlds" (till 6 June)
Emerson Studio Theatre, 69 Brimmer Street, BOSTON

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide