Thursday, May 19, 2005

"We annihilated the world before your very ears, and utterly destroyed the C.B.S. You will be relieved, I hope, to learn that we didn't mean it ..."

Last night we saw a dramatization of H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds, performed as if it were a radio show, at the Kraine Theater below KGB Bar on East 4th Street. The small theater wasn't a great place to see a show that's predicated on your attentive listening, as the seats were uncomfortable and the floorboards were creaky, made worse by several audience members' insistence on getting up and moving around occasionally as if it wasn't going to bother other people. I got the tickets hoping to have an experience akin to the famous Orson Welles radio adaptation broadcast just before Halloween in 1938, which caused a minor panic when people tuned in midway through and didn't listen long enough to hear that it was a fictional drama.

But this show turned out to be an attempt to go back to the original text and write their own "radio" adaptation, which I felt was not as concise and punchy as the famous Mercury Theater production. H.G.'s book placed the action in turn-of-the-century London, whereas Orson's version focused on the little crossroads of Grover's Mill, N.J., and New York City, and depicted the story as if it were a current event unfolding. Last night's production used a town on Long Island as the site of the aliens' first local landing.

I don't know exactly what it was about this 90-minute show, but perhaps it's just that the story bored me. I'm not the biggest fan of most action adventure movies or stories, and much of the narrative felt like them: cliched in a way, even though I'd imagine it was somewhat groundbreaking and prophetic at the time it was first published. It was an interesting experience to sit there and imagine the scenes of chaos and destruction as they dramatized them, but those are actually the moments where I tune out in a lot of disaster movies. I waited there eventually just wanting to know what it was that ultimately brought the aliens down. (For more on the story and its various iterations, see Wikipedia's web of entries.)

In the end, it's hard to top Welles' achievement for its feeling of realism and its success at condensing the story into an hour-long show. The script and a recording [MP3, starts immediately] are available online. If you have the patience and time, I'd recommend turning down the lights and listening to this version instead.

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