War of the Worlds and The Lost World
War of the Worlds was performed in a shortened version of the now-legendary radio script adapted by Howard Koch for Orson Welles' Mercury Theatre. At its first performance in 1938, this version of War of the Worlds caused a massive panic by listeners who thought they were hearing a news broadcast of a real Martian invasion rather than a work of fiction. No one ran for the doors at the performance on Friday night, but the play retains its power to evoke the awful destruction of an invasion against which human powers are useless.
The Lost World, which concerns an expedition of Englishmen (and one lady professor) who discover an Amazonian plateau where dinosaurs, ape-men and modern men co-exist, is a lighter work and was given a much lighter performance. The script, adapted by John de Lancie and Nat Segaloff from Conan Doyle's novel, even managed to work in a joke about a "bridge to nowhere."
These works make an interesting pairing because both were written in a period when the sun never set on the British Empire, but one criticizes imperialism while the other embraces it. Welles' War of the Worlds (1898) is often interpreted presenting the experience of imperialism from the invaded country's point of view. After all, there's no logical difference between Martians colonizing Britain or America and the Brits doing the same to India or Kenya. In contrast, Conan Doyle's The Lost World (1912) embraces many of the assumptions of imperialism which Welles questions: members of the expedition never doubt that it is their right, in fact their duty, as Englishmen to invade another country, kill its inhabitants and steal its wealth.
L.A. Theatre Works performs both plays in a hybrid style mixing typical stage performance (costumes, lighting design, movement, a rudimentary set) with radio techniques (performers reading from scripts and use microphones). Most of the actors play multiple roles, and produce a variety of sound effects in full view of the audience. This style works very well for both works, but is particularly good in bringing out the absurdity of The Lost World, which would be a tough sell today if presented straight.
L.A. Theatre Works performed War of the Worlds & The Lost World at the Edison Theatre at Washington University on October 3 and 4. Next up at the Edison is the Trey McIntyre Project, October 10-11, 2008. Ticket information is available from the Edison website or from the box office at 314-925-6543.
L.A. Theatre Works