H.G. Wells Science Fiction Festival
nytheatre.com review by Various Reviewers
October 17, 2007
The Time Machine (reviewed by Reagan Wilson)
Writer-director Dan Bianchi brings back his series RadioTheatre, this time featuring four H.G. Wells tales presented on stage, sans fancy costumes and whizzing set pieces. The glowing "RadioTheatre sign" hanging over the stage is reminiscent of an "On Air" sign from an old radio station. A voice is heard, it's the evening's announcer, alerting the audience that this evening's play will be The Time Machine. The smooth voice of Wes Shippee entices one to travel back in time and beckons the audience to prepare for a unique theatre experience. This tasty fare is served two ways: for the eyes and for the ears.
Let your eyes gaze upon a few old fashion traveling trunks, microphones, music stands, and four men: Jerry Lazar, Peter Iasillo, Patrick O'Connor, and Cash Tilton. Each is poised behind a microphone listening intently—for what? For the tale of a "genius," as Tilton puts it, who is recounting to his dinner guest how he has developed a machine that travels through time and his experience having traveled through time. The focus of Tilton on Lazar's storytelling is so intense that every glance at him makes one focus even more on the story being told. One becomes intrigued by both the story at hand and the attention being paid to the story. This type of concentration is necessary especially when Lazar delivers his geometry theory on the definition of a plane, and asks one to consider that if a balloon can travel through the air and deliver people to other locations, then is it unfathomable that a machine could be developed to transport people through time or space. Lazar's own space travels are accentuated by a strobe light and a fog machine as the unfathomable machine travels through time. One feels as if they are traveling with our storyteller; traveling to a land occupied by the Eloi and the Morlocks.
Listen to the unnatural laughter of what sounds like children, but are the voices of the Eloi, a vegetarian passive creature that lives above ground in the year 5959. Listen as our storyteller searches for his time machine in this strange land. Listen with your eyes closed. Many engaged audience members opted to digest the evening's story without need for the few visuals provided. They craved an even richer experience of RadioTheatre and chose to pretend that viewing the performers was not an option; that the only option available was to tune in and to listen. The sensation felt as one listens to the Morlock (the carnivorous darker side of mankind) chase after our storyteller and his Eloi friend is indescribable. A desire to hear reports of safety, to hear the sound of birds chirping revealing that morning has come and danger is once again at bay, or to at least hear the time machine starting its engine and the fog machine spewing its billowy clouds, becomes overwhelming but does one dare open ones eyes and re-enter the visual world of this production? Maybe.I sauntered back and forth between the visual world and the audible world. I consider myself lucky to have enjoyed the riches of both. If you're lucky enough to grab tickets for more than one night, then go ahead, test yourself. Taste the play with your eyes only one night and your ears only the next. No matter how you choose to digest The Time Machine, I suspect you will enjoy the "genius" combination of Wells and Bianchi.
The War of the Worlds (reviewed by Daniel Kelley)
RadioTheatre's War of the Worlds makes excellent use of one of the most powerful theatrical tools around: imagination. Without ever leaving their seats, the ensemble behind War of the Worlds takes the audience on a wild ride down sci-fi memory lane, and through the panicked psyche of pre-World War II America.
RadioTheatre's War of the Worlds is an adaptation of the classic novel by H.G. Wells. It is a story of man living a typical middle-class American life that is suddenly turned upside down by the appearance of aliens from another world. The story follows this man as he struggles to survive the alien invasion, with human civilization collapsing all around him. It is an epic adventure of survival, but also a meditation on man's place in the universe, America's place in the world, and man's relation to man.
Though strictly speaking this War of the Worlds is a radio drama, what is fascinating about this production is how it takes the best of both theatre and radio and blends them into a unique theatrical experience. Though the drama of the piece, and the driving engine behind it, is the voices of the actors, and wonderful original score, the piece is also enhanced by the visuals it chooses.
First and foremost, the actors are totally committed. They are not just standing at their podiums, staring down at their scripts, and acting with voice alone. For instance, Frank Zilinyi as the Narrator combines excellent vocal acting, and physical engagement to allow the audience to truly see the horrors he is describing, creating a engaging focus to the play. And R. Patrick Alberty is touching as the minister who loses faith as a result of the invasion.
In addition to the performers, the design team does an excellent job of evoking the style and world of the piece. Lauren Parrish's lighting design is evocative, if occasionally invasive. Wes Shippee's sound engineering is brilliant. From the orchestral score, to the sound of the alien's weeping, Shippee's sound design is an integral part of the experience of the piece. With his design, the piece becomes truly immersive. The orchestral score skillfully underscores the drama, and at moments, the sound creates dramatic moments all their own.
Dan Bianchi the director and adaptor of War of the Worlds, and the creator of RadioTheatre, does a great job in both capacities. His approach, both as an adaptor and director, is sincere and reverent, without a trace of irony. Bianchi sees beyond the Martian death rays, and focuses instead on the human struggle of the Narrator. The focus is on the questions Wells is asking about humanity and our sense of self-importance and self-worth. This note of sincerity is held throughout, and makes the piece both engaging as a story, and fulfilling as a piece of theatre.
Overall, War of the Worlds is a great night at the theatre. On my way home to write this review, I was sitting on a subway bench in Crown Heights, next to an old man who was mumbling to himself. On catching sight of my program, the man turned to me, his face lighting up, and said "H.G Wells! I remember that! That's when horror was REALLY horror." It says something about the influence of the imaginative worlds created by H.G. Wells that the mere mention of his name can still illicit that kind of reaction. It is this world that lives on still through RadioTheatre's excellent adaptation of War of the Worlds.
The Invisible Man (reviewed by Nancy Kim)
Dan Bianchi deserves much credit as adaptor, director, composer, and sound designer of RadioTheatre's H.G. Wells Science Fiction Festival. In The Invisible Man, the radio play format works extremely well, reminding us of the power of a good story and even stronger imagination.
As described in their mission statement, RadioTheatre takes inspiration from the radio play. While the score and sound effects are still integral parts, there is also a conscious effort in what the audience is going to see as well as what they hear: microphones are artfully placed as are the vintage suitcases; lighting cues are timed; and a fog machine is purposefully used. The narrator is seen as well as the sound engineer booth.
The Invisible Man begins its story with an innkeeper, Mrs. Hall (played by Elizabeth Burke), recounting a visit from a mysterious man whose face is wrapped in cloth and wears dark glasses at all times. Unlike the other characters in this story, the audience never sees the actor who is voicing for the mysterious man; he is a bodiless voice heard on the sound system (Frank Zilinyi does the great voicing here). When we discover that the man is invisible, this simple effect achieves the perfect visual idea of "invisibility" on stage.
Soon, the invisible man takes advantage of his condition to instill terror and paranoia throughout the different towns. He seeks out an old colleague, Dr. Kemp (an understatedly effective Cash Tilton), to assist him further in his evil plans, where we learn more about the young, enraged man.
While H.G. Wells was known as the Father of Science Fiction, he was also quite political. His creative stories have a strain of social and political ideas and themes. In fact, The Invisible Man feels especially relevant in that what is "invisible" evokes as much terror as something tangible and seen; just as our contemporary society deals with the "invisibility" of terrorism and those who are able to manipulate this invisibility for their benefit.
Bianchi also created the original orchestral score and is responsible for the great sound design. It never overwhelms the actors, but is a feat for creating the right mood throughout. This radio play is well served in this elegant and vivid storytelling.