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St. Louis by Richard Green

War of the Worlds
St. Louis Shakespeare/Missouri History Museum

Also see Bob's review of Evie's Waltz

War of the Worlds
Roger Erb and Ben Ritchie (standing) with the Cast
In one of his memoirs, talk-show host Steve Allen tells the story of the time his alarmed mother and aunt suddenly dragged him out of their Chicago apartment the night before Halloween in 1939, and hurried to the elevator. Moments later, his mother breathlessly told the elevator operator that the Earth was being invaded by Martians. And then, all at once, she and her sister snapped out of it, bursting out laughing at their own credulous natures.

Seventy years later, and free from a Great Depression and World War, this simple new staging of Orson Welles' audacious radio broadcast still conjures the deliciously dark fear of the end of civilization—and the dread of human slavery, if only for an hour or so.

As Welles, Aaron Orion Baker brings an elegant gravitas to the role, directing a remarkably talented ensemble of actors who step up to a trio of vintage chromium microphones (under the actual direction of Donna Northcott). Wearing suspenders and wide ties and surrounded by wooden chairs and tables, each man in this on-air studio brings tension and drive to the fateful "broadcast." Nicholas Kelly is especially great, first bumbling in as the typical "late actor," and later as an embittered survivor of the devastation wrought by glassy-eyed Martians, with their long gray tendrils and fearsome heat rays. And long-time theater devotees will relish the rare appearance of Alfred Erickson as a local farmer, who witnesses the first wave of an interplanetary attack.

Laughter erupts when Welles raises the panic on stage with uplifted arms, and then ends it abruptly to indicate a horrible slaughter. Dreamy big band music intervenes at such moments, providing a quaint numbness and a rising, eerie dissonance. Throughout, Mr. Baker easily conjures the enfant terrible of stage and screen in Welles' most notorious radio appearance, his voice all burgundy, silk and wry good grace.

Cale Haupert does very well as a doomed bomber pilot. Other terrific actors step up to the mic now and then, including Richard Lewis, Mark Abels, Roger Erb, Adam Keller and Ben Ritchie, who plays the first reporter on the scene. And after his own ghastly demise, Mr. Ritchie can barely be seen playing cards off in a corner of the studio, very quietly flouting the drama at hand. Somehow, his indifference only serves to tease us farther into the nightmare, like excited children dressing for their first Halloween.

Based on H.G. Wells' novel, War of the Worlds continues through Sunday, November 2, 2008 at the Missouri History Museum in Forest Park. For ticket information, call (314) 361-5664, or MetroTix at (314) 534-1111 or visit St. Louis Shakespeare online at www.stlshakespeare.org.

Cast
Announcer 1: Brad Behrmann
Orson Welles/Professor Pierson: Aaron Orion Baker
Announcer/Mr. Wilmuth/Captain Lansing: Al Erickson
Announcer 2/Operator 8X3R: Andrew Keller
Announcer 3: Roger Erb
Carl Phillips: Ben Ritchie
Brig. Gen. Montgomery Smith/Observer: Mark Abels
Policeman/Harry McDonald/Sec'y of Interior: Richard Lewis
Stranger/Gunner: Nicholas Kelly
Lieutenant Voght/Operator 2X2L: Cale Haupert
Sound Operator: Jeff Roberts

Design, Technical and Administrative Personnel
Director: Donna Northcott
Assistant Director: Kathy Doerr
Sound Manager: Jessica Durham
Sound Effects: Henry Lozano/Empire Radio Theatre
Lighting Design: Stephen Moore
Costume Design: Alexandra Scibetta Quigley
Properties: Jim Stewart
Light Board Operator: Ronnell Falaq Bennett


Photo: Donna Northcott


-- Richard T. Green

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