Last Thursday, as a present for his 34th birthday, I treated my friend Tre to a performance of War of the Worlds by the visiting L.A. Theatre Works company. It was held at the Wilson Center For the Arts, a theater a mile or so off of 198th and Capitol, smack dab in the middle of nowhere.
They did have cool bathrooms tho'
This was not your standard play, but rather a live, onstage recitation of the famous Orson Welle's broadcast that spread panic when it first aired in 1938. The cast included character actors from several TV shows, although the only face I recognized was Jerry Hardin's from the X-Files.
The theater was only half-full and more than a fair share of the audience shared our packed row, which was odd. We moved at intermission, and a fine thing too, as the guy next to me fidgeted so badly I felt like screaming 'Dude!' in the middle of the performance.
Anyhow, the stage was bare, except for a pair of raised platforms and a series of microphones. The actors each played multiple roles and it was neat to see how the sound effects were made - usually by means so simple and ingenious you were left shaking your head.
At first the audience didn't know how to react to the unusual performance and greeted it with nervous amusement. But as the show went on, building tension and despair as mankind sank into a global Holocaust, the mood of the crowd grew dim and solemn. As the play ended the room was quiet and it took a moment before the applause began.
I have heard the original broadcast on cassette, and it is a powerful piece of art, one whose underlying meaning is defined by whatever era listens in: those around for the lead-up to WWII, the Cold War, the present War on Terror.
Powerful stuff, to be sure, but I am still a little dumbfounded as to how people 'fell' for the broadcast, at least so far as to panic and flee. There are several wide leaps in chronology during the play, with a character finishing a scene and then referencing it as having took place 'an hour ago', and the grim journey at the end consumes weeks of time.
After intermission a vast change of pace. The group put on a show of Sir Arthur Conan Doye's The Lost World, a campy tale of an Amazon expedition that uncovers an island of dinosaurs. It was tongue in cheek the whole way with audience participation to boot.
If I have one criticism of The Lost World it is that the troupe resorted to awkward and stereotypical portrayals of their guide and the Natives. Frankly, the Speedy Gonzalez was . . inappropriate. Don't blame Doyle; by the dialogue it was obvious these roles were tailored in the present day. I'm hardly a slave to PC, but it did bother me a bit.
After the play we headed out for dinner and found Pedro's, a favorite Mexican restaurant chain of yours truly, bankrupt and closed. :( We wound up at Uno's Pizza instead.
A damn good time and (I hope) a nice birthday gift for Tre.