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War of the Worlds production brings classic radio play to life on The Gladstone stage

By Brian Carroll on October 31, 2013

It’s certainly possible to close your eyes and just listen to Plosive Productions stage adaptation of Orson Welles classic 1938 radio play War of the Worlds, which is playing at The Gladstone until Saturday.

Director Teri Loretto-Valentik has made only small modifications to the script, so simply listening to this production with eyes closed is similar to the experience of listening to an audio recording of the original live broadcast.  But doing so, the audience would miss out on the visual adaptations that Loretto-Valentik has made to bring the script to life on the stage.

Some of the previous radio play adaptations at The Gladstone have sought to reproduce the radio experience on a live stage.  With this production, Loretto-Valentik pays more attention to making a theatrical experience out of a radio play.  There are more sight gags.  There’s more behind the microphones interaction between performers.  There’s less slavish attention to period detail in props.  (The microphones, for example, are 1950s and 1960s styles, while there’s a 1990s Zube Tube for certain sound effects.)

In short, this is not merely a 1938 radio play reproduced on stage.  Yes, Loretto-Valentik’s love of the radio medium is evident, but this is a more theatrical production than I have seen in her previous radio play adaptations.

And that’s to the good.

Zach Counsil.  Photo by David Whiteley.

Zach Counsil. Photo by David Whiteley.

For example, Zach Counsil as Orson Welles reminds us just how young Welles looked in 1938.  Three years before Citizen Kane, Welles was a baby faced upstart. Seeing Counsil as Welles the director makes us realize just what an “enfant terrible” Welles was while trying to make his career.

Counsil does a decent imitation of Orson Welles’ voice, but he does not attempt the conceit of imitating Welles playing various characters.  He brings his own interpretation to the character Professor Pierson, the Princeton astronomer who investigates the Martians first hand.

The brilliant casting continues with using actual announcers Laurence Wall (radio) and David Gerow (television) as two of the radio announcers in the show.  Their professional manners add verisimilitude to the actions on stage.

Then, casting actor David Holton as Announcer Three allows parody of the profession through sight gags that poke gentle fun.  There’s a comical contretemps in the background between Welles and Announcer Three when the insufficiently rehearsed announcer discovers what Welles has done to his character.

Loretto-Valentik is also director for costumes.  She’s chosen a high-slit sleeveless full length dress for Michelle LeBlanc to show off in between turns at the microphone.  The contrast of having LeBlanc huskily voicing male characters at the mic while dressed in this number spices up the visuals.

For musical interludes during the “broadcast”, Lori Jean Hodge (Music Director), Chris MacLean and Robin Guy add vocals as The Gladstone Sisters.  They offer some fresh harmonic interpretations of old standards.  These are not just Andrews Sisters imitations.

Karen Benoit.  Photo by David Whiteley.

Karen Benoit. Photo by David Whiteley.

Karen Benoit, who has done live sound effects for the past four radio shows at The Gladstone, once again delights the audience.  They try to anticipate when each of her props will be used and to what effect.  She’s a treat to watch as well as hear.

Opening night of this brief run was not without its problems.  As expected in a radio production, the cast had scripts before them on stands, but still, some of the cast stumbled on their lines.  Counsil in particular had a number of slips of the tongue that the real Orson Welles would not have allowed his cast or himself to let escape rehearsal.

That said, this is an entertaining piece of theatre that the opening night audience enjoyed heartily.  You don’t have to be an aficionado of the golden age of radio theatre, or even just of live theatre, to have a good time at The Gladstone this Halloween season.

Trick or treat? Definitely treat.

The War of the Worlds by Plosive Productions is playing at The Gladstone unil November 2nd.  Special late show tonight, October 31, at 10:00 pm, with a 2:30 pm matinee on Saturday.  Tickets $20 (Students, Artists, Unwaged), $30 (Seniors, 65+) $34 (Adults).

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