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Past, Present, and Future

God bless Ray Bradbury. The prolific science fiction author surely doesn't produce $15 a ticket plays at small theatres in Los Angeles for the money. He must do it because, despite achieving massive success as a novelist and short story author, he simply loves theatre and desires the immediate audience connection that comes from having his words performed, rather than simply read. Watching Bradbury: Past, Present, and Future, an evening of three of Bradbury's one-act plays, one is left with the inescapable conclusion that Ray Bradbury is "theatre people."

The highlight of three plays is the second, The Day It Rained Forever, the story of an Arizona town where the sun shines 364 days out of the year. It is stiflingly hot, as we are introduced to three old men, who lack the energy to rock the rocking chairs on the porch of the hotel in which they live. Bradbury's writing is at its strongest here; he clearly had fun coming up with metaphors the men use to describe exactly how hot it is, which range from the ridiculous (one fellow says his brain has been baked to a "squeezed-up prune") to the elegant (the sun is "waitin' for the ghost of an old forest fire"). The title of the play refers to January 29, the one day out of the year when rain actually falls. (Its arrival is anticipated with an enthusiastic three-man ballpark wave.) Although the play begins with this science fiction-like premise, the plot doesn't unfold into a Twilight Zone episode, but rather a well-played character piece, punctuated by moments of poetic writing. It isn't a perfect play. Its last two lines come out of nowhere, and the opening-night audience was unsure that the play had actually ended. But The Day It Rained Forever is an effective play, both for its ability to create its environment, and the interesting characters who must survive it.

The other two plays are less successful. The first is A Medicine for Melancholy, a lightly comic tale, set in 1750, about a teenaged girl suffering from an unknown malady and her family's outrageous attempts to find her a cure. The piece is pretty much a one-joke play; once you figure out the remedy that will eventually heal the girl, there's little left but to watch it play out. The cast seems undecided whether to play it straight or to overplay the comedy. The performances range from a funny David Mauer, who overplays the girl's brother as a wannabe aristocrat, to Felisa Kazen, as a gypsy who earnestly rattles off a list of herbs for a cure. Perhaps this play would have been more effective had the entire cast (except the girl herself and the man who proposes the right medicine) approached it as farce -- ridiculously overplaying every moment in their frenzied attempts to treat her illness. As it stands, it is a quick, mildly amusing play, easily overwhelmed by The Day It Rained Forever.

The final one-act is a world premiere of Bradbury's futuristic story, Henry the Ninth. Henry the Ninth envisions an England in 2079, which everyone has deserted because it's just too darned cold and rainy. The decision to perform this play on the heels of The Day It Rained Forever has to be questioned. Given the seriousness with which The Day It Rained Forever treats its protagonists' near desperate desire for rain, the comedy of the entire population of England leaving because of the weather lands awkwardly. Henry the Ninth, the story of the last two men in Britain, also suffers from an underprepared production. An English accent comes and goes, lines are dropped and repeated, and one of the actors is saddled with a fake beard so poorly attached to his chin, it was removing itself from his lower lip, strand by strand, with each line he uttered. It is an inauspicious world premiere for a play which may well contain elements of a study of growing old, as well as a love letter to England. But any beauty in the play's script was lost in the ineffective production.

Overall, the evening of plays is uneven, with its shining moment coming under the blazing heat of the Arizona sun.

Ray Bradbury's Pandemonium Theatre Company presents Bradbury: Past, Present, & Future, three one-act plays by Ray Bradbury. Directed by Charles Rome Smith; Produced by Ray Bradbury, Thomas Petitpas and Mindy Brandt; Lighting Design by Peter Strauss; Set Design by Terry Evans; Sound Design by Dan O'Connell & Suzzy London; Costume Design by Charles Rome Smith; Assistant Director Tammy Hart; Program Art by Joseph Mugnaini; Choreography by Felisa Kazen; Director of Marketing Alan Neal Hubbs; Publicist Philip Sokoloff; Assistant to the Producers Kathi Castoro; House Manager Michael Barton.

Cast:
A Medicine for Melancholy
Mr. Wilkes - Philip Sokoloff
Mrs. Wilkes - Kathie Barnes
Dr. Gimp - Len Lesser
Jamie - David Mauer
Camillia - Molly Reynolds
Jonathan - David Polcyn
Jeptha - Brett Gandy
Second Doctor - Ed Keaveny
A Gypsy - Felisa Kazen
A Girl - Kathi Castoro
The Butcher - Alan Neal Hubbs
The Dustman - Scott Allegrucci

The Day It Rained Forever
Fremly - Len Lesser
Terle - Jay Gerber
Smith - Paul Vent
Miss Hillgood - Pat Sturges

Henry the Ninth Harry - Charles Rome Smith
Samuel - Len Lesser

Bradbury: Past, Present, and Future plays at the Court Theatre in West Hollywood through August 17, 2002, Thursdays through Saturdays at 8:00 p.m., Sundays at 6:00 p.m. Tickets are $15. For information and tickets, call (323) 655-8587.


Be sure to check the current schedule for theatre in the Los Angeles area.


- Sharon Perlmutter




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