War of the Worlds
Also see Bob's review of Evie's Waltz
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 civilizationand 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.
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