Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

September 21, 2011

War of the Worlds

Shakespeare & Company, Lenox, MA
through November 6, 2011
by Shera Cohen

The year? 1938. The day? October 30th. The place? Mercury Theatre, NYC. Shakespeare & Company takes its audience back to an actual episode in history, to the days when radio dramas were as brilliantly told and “visible” as any HD/3D/etc. movie of today.

Tony Simotes directs a play within a play, starring a cadre of the troupe’s best actors. There’s the light-hearted “Jack Holloway Show,” complete with country music (for New Yorkers?), an episodic short drama (“Ace Moran, American Hero”), tap dancing (hmm, hard to see on radio), advertisements (the sales department’s excellent idea to highlight local businesses), and a vignette from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (shameless but hysterical self-promotion). Along with audience participation, a flashing “Applause” sign, and an onstage sound effects man using 70-year-old tools of the trade, Jack Holloway, et al, joyfully entertain their listeners and studio audience.

“We interrupt this program…” With these four words begins the drama within the comedic variety show. Act II takes a 180 degree turn as laughter changes to gasps. Sounds of telegraph machines crank out more alarming words prefaced by “This just in...” Today’s audience knows the outcome of the story, but the scare of Martians invading Earth was very real when Orson Welles performed his live hoax in 1938. Simotes and crew (especially Michael Pfeiffer on sound and Stephen Ball on lights) create a sci-fi time revisited. While Shakespeare & Company’s performance is family friendly, there are many scares and terror of what could have happened long ago and to some degree has actually occurred in this century with other equally horrifying invasions.

The actors take on double and triple roles – something quite common and expected at this theatre. Elizabeth Aspenlieder segues from chipper singer to an on-the-spot reporter meeting her death at the hands of aliens. She switches demeanor, voice, and language texture in a heartbeat. These same skills are those of Simotes’ dream cast – particularly Jonathan Croy, Josh Aaron McCabe, and David Joseph. It is a pleasure to see Joseph (newcomer of the group) excel in plumb roles at this venue.

Lenox, MA isn’t Grovers Mills, NJ, but it very well could be.