Archikulture Digest

Orson Wells’ War of the Worlds

Orson Wells’ War of the Worlds

Written by Orson Wells

Directed by Aradhana Tiwari and Joseph Fletcher

Presented by: Play The Moment and Questionable Productions

Orlando Shakespeare Festival, Orlando, FL

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You sit in a radio studio, talking into a glowing machine and trusting that your words are going out the world. But there’s always a listener: make a mistake and you’ll hear about it. “Someone is always listening” was true in spades when Orson Wells and his upstart Mercury Theatre pulled off one of the biggest hoaxes in radio history back in 1938, and tonight’s production is just as convincing. The story is stock Sci-Fi and brilliantly executed. Aliens from a distant world invade with super weapons, destroy society and infrastructure, and impose fascism from above, all in about 30 minutes. You really can bend time and space in a theatre.

This zippy production by two local groups, Play The Moment and Questionable Productions, takes the original transcription and adds a crowd of public citizens who react to the pseudo news events, turning mundane life into feverish panic. As you’re sitting there, it’s not inconceivable you’d have panicked as well. The radio part of the show comes courtesy of Allan Gallant (as Orson Wells) Frank McClain (as Professor Pierson) and Brandon Roberts (as reporter Carl Phillips). While they read from scripts, there’s both an audio professionalism here, as well as an interesting visual presentation as they move around microphones and mutter comment to each other about the performance as The Public flows around them. I was impressed by Robert’s announce voice; he’s normally cast into physical comedy roles, and rarely gets a good chance to project. McClain and Gallant have radio voices as well, and both gave great military commander performances. The Public, unidentified except as actors, brought an updated Our Town to stage – they sewed, knitted, danced and worked at ordinary jobs and ordinary situations, until they heard a plausible crisis blow up in their own home town and turn them into horrified and leaderless ants. After the hoax was revealed, they each had a rationalization for their panic, and it came down to this: “I trusted, but never verified.”

I’ve listened to War of the Worlds many times, seen it, read it, and analyzed it to death, and it still garbs me every time I experience it. While the original story is one of the classics of Victorian fiction, its Wells’ skill at splicing the story into the fabric of broadcasting tropes and public fears and expectations that made it panics a nation. While a disclaimer starts the show, not everyone tunes in to hear it, and the immediacy of the news bulletins and the twist from “nothing to worry about here” to “run for the hills” never gives the listener a wink that it’s all a show. Radio drama may be making a comeback, and this is as good an example as you’ll see.

For more information on Play The Moment or Questionable Productions visit http://www.playthemoment.com/ and http://www.questionableproductions.com/</em>


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