The Orson Welles radio presentation of H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds, in an adaptation by Howard Koch, has been in the news recently because it's the 75th anniversary of this show-biz legend: Told through a series of "we interrupt this broadcast" news bulletins about an invasion from Mars, the program was so real (and/or people are so stupid) that some believed a Martian attack was underway.
Bricolage Productions presents the Koch script as part of its "Midnight Radio" series: The company creates a live radio program on stage, not for broadcast but rather for the theater audience.
Bricolage has changed the location of the first Martian attack from New Jersey to near Pittsburgh, and added a couple of funny commercials. But otherwise what we see — and hear — is pretty much what played on CBS radio on Oct. 30, 1938.
The company plays it dead straight, which gives us an amazing opportunity to witness how Koch and Welles exploit the medium of radio to their ends. The propulsion of the story, and the stripped-to-the-bone manner in which it is told, keeps you riveted from beginning to end.
Especially compelling is a scene toward the end. A survivor of a Martian attack meets another survivor who begins speaking rationally enough but soon reveals how self-preservation can be perverted into fascism. In 1938, Hitler's true purpose was becoming all too apparent, and Koch and Welles allow Nazism, in a very subtle manner, to creep in. Most interestingly, it's humans, not Martians, whom Koch is comparing to Nazis.
Jeffrey Carpenter directs a cast including Paul Guggenheimer, Randy Kovitz, Jason McCune and Sean Sears, with Tami Dixon as the sound department. Acting with conviction and without any embroidery, this company does an exceptional job ... and I really admired their ability to play the period of the piece without a raised eyebrow.
The Ortner-Roberts Trio are the musicians for the evening — here being an even more integral part of the performance than usual — and their musicianship is entrancing.
It's been some time since I was so gloriously entertained in a theater. Thank you, Bricolage.