War Over, Audiences Win!!!


(The Panic Broadcast of 1938)

Adaptation by Jay Michaels

Based on original adaptation by Howard Koch, based on the Novel by H.G.Wells

Directed by Jay Michaels and Mary Elizabeth MiCari

Presented by Genesis Repertory Ensemble

at the Spotlight-on Productions Halloween Festival

Equity Showcase (October 22 - Novenber 2)

review by Alyn Hunter . . . October 30, 2002

In 1938 H.G. Wells' novel was adapted for the radio and presented by CBS and Orson Welles' Mercury Theatre to the listening public. In 2002 Genesis Repertory Ensemble has adapted the radio play adaptation for the stage and presented it to the viewing public. In both cases, an outstanding success.

In this stage offering, during which the Malicious Martians are again invading New Jersey and New York, we are treated not only to an actual recreation of the 1938 broadcast, but to additional material (often lifted directly from periodicals of the time) added to broaden the audience understanding of how it was received. The meticulous weaving together of these elements with the time-compressed radio script provided for a mesmeric evening of theater.

The stage was sparse and suggestive rather than truly representational. In the absence of adequate lighting, the few anachronistic elements of the set were below general notice and did not intrude on my enjoyment of the show. I thought the placing of the period-appropriate radio far downstage made for an excellent anchor for the production but, conversely, I would have loved to see microphones to anchor the actors to their "broadcast". Further, it might have added to the atmosphere of the "airing" itself if the directors had chosen to "pipe in" the pre- and post-show broadcasts bracketing the War of the Worlds during the original airing before and after the evening's production.

The co-directorship of War of the Worlds by Jay Michaels and Mary Elizabeth MiCari has made for a successful partnership. Whatever aspects were controlled by each individual the final product is seamless. The two directors brought the best of their actor's skills out to play. Their decision to have Michaels (as Orson Welles) conduct the radio players through the broadcast was a good one. It lent an air of musicality to the presentation and created an underlying rhythm that might have otherwise been lost. Though the cast did not often look to Michaels, they reacted to his guidance flawlessly as if the broadcast room was circular in shape and had been bent in a cubist manner for us to see the whole of the picture at once. Certain choices could have been better thought out, however: Houseman's office placed directly upstage of the "residence" of the woman listening to her radio created an ongoing ambiguity. Alternately, Houseman and his staff seemed to be in her living room and the woman in his office. I also question the direct impersonation of John Houseman by Robert F. Saunders. The actor has an obvious well of skill and talent at his disposal, but I found myself transported away from 1938 whenever he struck a "Houseman Pose", raised his eyebrow over his shoulder or took a pause that would stop a Martian invasion. He, and the production, would have been better served by his creating a Housemanian character rather than the man himself.

The meat of the production, obviously, was the broadcast. It was breathtaking. I found myself smiling, laughing, forgetting to blink, awestruck by the performance's ability (both from leads and supporting cast) to transport me to that 1938 radio station. As a radio team ensemble within the production's ensemble, they provided a vehicle that took the audience on an engaging, pulse-quickening journey.

Several actors shine brightly against a background bright in its own right. Jay Michaels has found his groove by stepping into the very large shoes of Orson Welles. Michaels easily assumes Welles' roles ( I recently saw him in Genesis Rep's wonderful Faustus, as reviewed by ArtZine) and breathes life into the scripts he touches. Mary Elizabeth MiCari's voice glitters with nuance as she glides through her monologues. I watched Derek Devereaux take his Mephistopheles (also of the aforementioned Faustus) played on 33 and a third RPM, and crank it up to a delightfully psychotic 45 for The Stranger, replete with the same maniacal laughter. Watching the reparte between he and Michaels is akin to listening to concert violinists in a musical dialogue.

The costume design by Margo La Zaro was necessarily heavily influenced by the period and circumstances of the original 1938 broadcast. Within those parameters each actors' attire was perfectly suited for them and well-balanced for the production. I'm certain that Mary Elizabeth MiCari's make-up and hair design were perfect as well, if she did as wonderfully as she had with GenRep's recent Faustus. Unfortunately, the atrocious lighting robbed me of any real look at the actors.

Due to circumstances beyond Genesis Repertory's, or Spot-Light On's control was a shortage of lighting instruments. That being said, any lighting designer with a minimal competence in his or her craft would have made some attempt to compensate. The stark, harsh spotlighting directly above the main playing area cast massive shadows across the actor's faces as they "read" their lines into non-existent microphones. The scenes taking place in John Houseman's office had a well-intentioned but altogether insufficiently lit golden hue. The isolated radio at the farthest point downstage was lit entirely by spillover illumination from instruments directed elsewhere. Taken as a whole, the uncredited lighting designer created the feeling that I was watching this performance in different rooms of a mortuary.

The recorded sound effects, voiceovers, and music provided by Rob DeScherer and Philip Micari enhanced the production with high quality, excellent timing, and proper execution. I would have preferred some of the military effects at a higher volume, but overall the design and execution were right on target.

For information about Genesis Repertory Ensemble and its members, various projects and associations visit their website at www.genesisrep.org. It's definitely worth the surf.