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CONNECTICUT & BEYOND
Regional Reviews by Fred Sokol

War of the Worlds
Shakespeare & Company

War of the Worlds
Elizabeth Aspenlieder and
Dana Harrison

Shakespeare & Company's War of the Worlds, continuing at the Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre in Lenox, Massachusetts, through November 6th, is a delectable treat and about perfect for Halloween. Running just under two hours, written by Howard Koch who adapted from the H.G. Wells' novel, this is fast moving, snazzy theatre which brings us back to October 30, 1938. Of course, one must not neglect Orson Welles, then in his early twenties, a galvanic presence.

Director Tony Simotes, costumer Kara D. Midlam, and set designer Patrick Brennan have created an immediate feel of the period. Midlam's outfits are exceptional and the actors fly from one get-up to the next. The play begins as all partake in the "Jack Holloway Show," radio transmission at its finest. In the Berkshires, though, everyone these days gets to see what goes on and that includes the presence of sound designer Michael Pfeiffer who, as Max Michaels, creates many a noise to fit the moment.

Introducing the comedy, music and eventual "hysteria" is Bobby Ramiro (Scott Renzoni) who eventually yields to smooth, suave Jack Holloway (David Joseph) and a pleasing rendition of "Smile." Soon enough, actresses Elizabeth Aspenlieder as Darla Ford and Dana Harrison as Melinda Maguire sing sweetly as the late 1930s come to life. The company's Jonathan Croy first appears as actor Lionel Harrison. Josh Aaron McCabe is effective as Clark Alden and later as Professor Pierson. For nearly an hour, we get an amusing and fleet show as the highly talented performers showcase delightful versatility. There's a touch of audience participation, cool and appropriate signs for applause ... all terrific stuff. In the midst of a slightly lengthy but wonderfully absurdist Pyramus and Thisbe scene from A Midsummer Night's Dream, the production takes a dramatic turn.

After intermission, everyone is figuratively transported to Grovers Mill, New Jersey. The presentation recalls, with flair and high drama, Orson Welles' legendary radio broadcast. Suffice to say: beware of Martians all over the place!

The second portion of War of the Worlds is campy, suspenseful, and just jam packed with actor energy. At the midpoint of the run, this ensemble group seems to be having a really fine time with the play. Most cast members have more than one assignment, and the transitions from character to character are swift and fluent. Dana Harrison switches dialects in a seeming flash, and Elizabeth Aspenlieder is at her very best as Carla Phillips who reports the "terrifying" circumstances in New Jersey.

Walk into the Bernstein Theatre, even without knowledge of the show, and it feels as if 1930s/early 1940s America has returned. What a sweet, welcome and fitting transformation. The name Howard Koch, the man who penned this War of the Worlds? He was actually one of the writers for CBS Mercury Theater which, in 1938, included Orson Welles' drama. Koch, along with Julius and Philip Epstein, wrote the script for the classic film, Casablanca. Then, in 1951, Koch was blacklisted.

Pace and rhythm are pivotal as War of the Worlds progresses. Thus, a nod to director Simotes who drives and pushes forward. During the early going, everyone in the building acclimates and the rectangular stage serves as playing field for those who act, sing, and even tap dance. After intermission, science fiction blends with theater: the image of frightened New Yorkers and New Jersey suburbanites cowering and running as creatures from another planet descend dances in one's mind. People of many ages will love it: something for everybody. "It's Only a Paper Moon" is a fitting company number just before the performance concludes.

War of the Worlds continues at the Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre on the grounds of Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, Massachusetts, through November 6th.

For tickets, call the box office at (413) 637-3353 or visit www.shakespeare.org.


Photo: Kevin Sprague


Also see the current theatre schedule for Connecticut & Beyond

- Fred Sokol



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