War of the Worlds, originally written by H.G. Wells in 1898, has had an intriguing life. The book tells the story of Martian ships landing in the British countryside. The Martians have come to take over Earth; with their lethal "heat-rays" which shoot flame, they are easily able to overtake the rural populace and lay waste to most of England. In the end, however, they are defeated by bacteria, dying of diseases against which they had no defense. It is a classic of science fiction, but it is best-known for its radio adaptation.
The 1938 radio broadcast of Orson Welles’s adaptation of War of the Worlds is infamous. On October 30, 1938, CBS presented Welles’s adaptation, updated slightly and set in (then) modern-day New Jersey. People flipping through the radio stations missed the first part of the broadcast -- the disclaimer -- and thousands fled their homes in terror after listening to what they thought were real news bulletins detailing the Martian invasion of New Jersey and the leveling of New York City. Proving, said Welles, the almighty power of the spoken word. The broadcast has gone down in history as one of the best Halloween pranks of all time. To help celebrate Halloween this year, The Genesis Repertory of Young Actors & Artists presented their adaptation of the radio broadcast at Raw Space.
Regardless of how exciting a radio show may be to listen to, it isn’t much to look at: a bunch of actors reading their lines in front of a microphone. To their credit, Genesis Repertory managed to make this static form visually appealing, with enough movement to keep things lively. The set was stark-- a black box, some chairs, some music stands -- but the actors’ voices made up for the visual monotony, and the sound effects were excellent. While Orson Welles (Jay Michaels) directed the movements of the actors, John Houseman (Robert F. Saunders), the producer, offered asides to the audience, detailing the history of the broadcast and its reception by the public. The radio actors (Matthew Schneider, Eleonora Mardinan, Sonia Moreno, Patricia Israel, Mary Elizabeth MiCari, Corey, Daniel Ishofsky, Simone Smith, Ingrid Griffith, Frank Rosner, Michael D’Antoni, and Derek Devareaux), attired in beautiful period costumes by Margo La Zaro, maintained a constant circle of movement between their chairs and the microphone. The circle became fairly dizzying at times, as the story increased in intensity. The cast as a whole was exceptional, especially Michaels and Saunders.
It’s an intriguing concept, a theatrical adaptation of a radio adaptation. It was certainly an entertaining production; light enough and short enough to delight, with great performances. And it’s always fascinating to be able to enjoy the sound of a play as much as (if not more than) the look.
Lighting: 1/Sound: 2
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Copyright 2002 Jenny Sandman