War of the Worlds

Shakespeare & Company to Nov. 6

By: - Oct 08, 2011

War War War War War

War of the Worlds
By Howard Koch
Adapted from H.G. Wells and inspired by the 1938 radio broadcast of Orson Welles
Directed by Tony Simotes
Set by Patrick Brennan, Costumes, Kara D. Midlam, Lighting, Stephen Ball, Sound Michael Pfeiffer, Singing Coach, Bill Barclay, Stage Manager, Hope Rose Kelly
Cast: Scott Renzoni (Bobby Ramiro/ Policeman/Officer/ Stranger), David Joseph (Jack Holloway/ Observer), Elizabeth Aspenlieder (Darla Ford/ Clara Phillips/ Judy McMurphy/ Operator), Dana Harrison (Melinda Maguire/ Margaret Atwater/ Operator/ Stranger), Josh Aaron McCabe (Clark Alden/ Professor Pierson), Jonathan Croy (Lionel Harrison/ Mr. Wilmuth, Captain Lansing, Lt. Vogt), Michael Pfeiffer (Foley Artist Max Michaels)
Shakespeare & Company
Lenox, Mass.
Through November 6

Those that missed the brief introduction and tuned in mid broadcast to The Mercury Theatre on the Air, on October 30, 1938 truly believed that there was a War of the Worlds. There was panic all over America with frantic calls jamming switch boards trying to connect endangered loved ones.

My parents were among those making desperate calls. At the time they were young doctors living in Brooklyn with my older sister sleeping soundly through the harrowing event.

In the warm up to the simulated studio broadcast the host of the ersatz radio show, Jack Holloway (David Joseph) asked the audience if any of us had sat in on a studio broadcast.

I was among those seniors in the audience who put up a hand.

During a trip to New York my dad took me to one of those broadcasts, a radio drama. Free. Which amazed me. I sat entranced as the actors clustered around microphones reading from scripts. Mostly I was intrigued by the Foley Artist who created all the sound effects of footsteps, slamming doors, and whirling wind.

We encountered one of the actors on the street after the show. In one of my first efforts at criticism I told the pretty woman that “You were wonderful.”

My generation grew up on radio. We huddled around listening to Roosevelt’s Fireside Chats. But mostly I loved all those shows Lone Ranger, Straight Arrow, Green Hornet, Superman, G Men, Bobby Benson and the B Bar B Riders, The Fat Man, Amos and Andy, The Shadow, Vault of Horror.

Radio  captured the imagination.

It is how Welles was so successful in creating that vivid simulacrum of an invasion by Martians. In today’s clicker driven media and CNN such a bold and creative stunt would never be possible. Within seconds of such a spoof Americans would twitter and tweet the truth.

What Shakespeare & Company is attempting to create in this feisty comedic romp is just such a suspension of reality.

The simple, sparing set design by Patrick Brennan, with deft, art deco moldings, aptly conjured memories of my youthful studio experience. Then as now we are fascinated by the clever sound effects of the Foley Artist Max Michaels (Michael Pfeiffer).

The song birds Darla Ford (Elizabeth Aspenlieder) and Melinda Maguire (Dana Harrison) were rollicking splendiferous as two thirds of the Andrews Sisters.

As the MC the ever versatile Scott Renzoni playing Bobby Ramiro had just the right smarmy brill cream slickness. His little dab will surly do you with not a lick out of place.  

In a radio show, within a radio show, within a play, that’s a lot of theatrical telescoping, there were bits layered on bits. Perhaps too many in jokes of pretend ads with Berkshire references. Too many in house plugs for upcoming events at S&Co. Like popping in a Netflix DVD and enduring endless trailers for films that have long since come and gone.

The first act, which wore out its welcome clocking in at a tedious 45 minutes, was just a setup for the faster paced second act when the Martians finally landed.

In every sense all hell broke loose in the second act.

We were totally ensconced in the mayhem with really terrific and lively staging by director Tony Simotes, awesome lighting by Stephen Ball and sound by Michael Pfeiffer.

Even though we knew the riff it complete enthralled us.

Overall it was a fun evening but that first act stroll down memory lane just dragged on and on and on. With a cut and paste this might have been more successful as a faster paced one act.

 War is hell.