Reviewed by Sherrema Bower
It is October 30, 1938, and the members of Farlowe’s Mystery Theatre Hour are rehearsing at radio station WHQN in New York City, when they learn that Martians have landed in neighboring New Jersey. The ensuing panic and hysterics bring out hidden personal truths of dreams diverted, secret pseudonyms, and mad romance. Although, situated in humor, the actors captured the emotional shock and horror that swept America that fateful night as millions of listeners tuned in at 8:00pm to, what they mistakenly believed, was an invasion by Martians. Because many people switched their radio dial from another show on a different network, they tuned in slightly late and most did not hear the announcement beforehand, stating that this was a simulated news broadcast and adaptation of H.G. Wells’ novel The War of the Worlds. Written and narrated by Orson Welles, the show’s historicity and reverberations of that fateful night have been well documented – spurred on by mass fear, panic, and later, anger when people learned the truth and felt “duped.” Orson Welles redefined radio and became an overnight legend. He is, in fact, a spectral image in the play.
This production by the Flint Community Players featured an experienced and well-suited cast with excellent chemistry and passion for their roles. The moral strengths and weaknesses of each character appear in nuances of conversation and movement, both subtle and confronting by turns. Receptionist Maude Myrtles (Lauren Kondrat) is the show’s unflappable voice of reason with her wit and dry humor. She handles the angry directives of her boss Quentin Farlowe (Christopher Dinnan), the sexist overtures of radio actor George Loomis (Brian Scott Powers), and the neuroses of radio show sound technician Werner Kreilig (Brett Beach) with admirable aplomb. She never loses her cool – until she does. Via Kondrat’s magnificent show of hysterics, the audience is treated to Maude’s secret, fantastic dreams, and very real fear that her life will end this night without ever being realized. Delores Breckinridge (Dominique Hinde) is not who she appears at first to be. Seemingly silly, her lackluster conversational tidbits trail away under Maude’s withering gaze. Yet, Hinde plays her character with understated strength, as seen in her graceful profile and proud carriage while facing down Farlowe’s wrath, and uncharacteristic, surprising knowledge as she explains the physics surrounding the Martian spaceship’s entrance to Planet Earth. Julia Crane (Jessi Eldredge) also displays a subtle sense of strength. Appearing, at first, as a high maintenance diva, she is impervious to George’s tirades during rehearsal, and shows surprising depth in her compassionate, vulnerable response to Farlowe, bringing the audience to understand the hidden truths surrounding their 15-year marriage and subsequent divorce. Brought in as a last resort to save Farlowe’s Mystery Theatre Hour, Julia, like Maude to WHQN, is Farlowe’s backbone and, by the end, his redemption.
The male actors also played their characters with nuances of strength. Leading-man Dinnan plays Farlowe to the hilt in all his bad-tempered, crotchety, and cynical glory. Faced with a funding shortage and the possible cancellation of his radio show, he vacillates between dreams deferred, and roaring his disapproval at others for their work performances. George, superbly played by Powers, is haunted by memories as a soldier during the Great War, about which he is reminded daily by a leg injury received in the trenches. He is seemingly nonplussed at working beside women and his sexist remonstrations are met with long suffering humor by Maude, simpering impatience by Delores, and completely ignored by Julia. George’s loyalty to Farlowe, however, gives the audience a glimpse into the soldier he once was. Later, panic reveals him to be a conspiracy theorist and xenophobe mired in his memories of the Front and inability to cope in a rapidly changing world. Beach’s Werner Kreilig is enigmatic and neurotic. Werner is German and his neuroses seem, at first, overplayed. Living in his mother’s basement, Werner keeps to himself and enjoys reading science fiction. As the radio show’s sound technician, he is enamored with making thunder and does so often, much to Farlowe’s chagrin. In the adrenaline rush following the initial sense of panic, he and Delores realize their love for each other, and a sense of calm seems to overtake Werner once he recognizes who she is to him. His over-the-top expressions provide a useful counterpoint when he is, at last, peaceful and intuitive in the face of death.
The show’s lighting (Lisa Bilaski) was done well, and sound (Vic Tatum) was artfully used via the radio when listening to the newscast, and off stage, especially when magnified by the characters’ fear that the aliens had found them and it was only one of their own come to set them free from their barricaded room. Period costumes (Kelli Gibbons) were subtle on the men, who wore suits, and especially seen on the women. Eldredge and Kondrat wore their hair and costumes well, while Hinde’s dress seemed somewhat too contemporary, although a subtle hairstyle change could fix that. Props (Sarah Briggs) were kept sparse, perhaps in keeping with a Depression-era office, although this audience member wondered why a radio station would need such a small, faulty radio by which the characters were fixated on receiving news. It also causes one to wonder why Julia and Farlowe did not recognize the narrator’s voice as belonging to Orson Welles, entwined as he was in both of their lives.
All in all, opening night of FCP’s production It Came from Mars was a success and a rollicking good time. Director Zachery Wood’s characters were deeply nuanced and developed, their chemistry strong, and the set fitting. This play is a must-see and highly enjoyable.
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