Theater review: Seeing is as much fun as hearing 'The War of the Worlds' broadcast
Wise Fool Theater’s recreation of the infamous 1938 radio broadcast of “The War of the Worlds,” by Orson Welles and his Mercury Theater of the Air, premiered Friday night in the acoustic cathedral that is Lincoln Park Middle School’s auditorium.
Writer Howard Koch gets the credit for the script that transformed the novel by H.G. Wells into a Halloween staple. But director Chani Ninneman and her cast get the credit with for actually allowing the audience to be in the studio where it happens.
We watch Foley artists (Nicholas Gosen and Devin P. McKinnon) testing the microphones and practicing their sound effects. Most of the fun comes from seeing how the sounds of airplanes and a flock of birds are achieved, or what can be done with a half filled bottles and empty glasses.
I have heard the 1938 radio show numerous times, seen the 1975 television movie “The Night That Panicked America,” read Koch’s book “The Panic Broadcast,” and every semester teach about the flawed research behind “The Invasion from Mars” study.
So believe me when I tell you Ninneman has done her homework. There were numerous details — such as putting a microphone in a toilet while unscrewing a jar to come up with the sound of the cylinder opening or a water tower mistaken for a Martian tripod — that I know are historically accurate.
Ninneman takes some strategic liberties with who plays what role, having a slightly larger cast than Welles that also includes women.
More importantly, while Andrew Kirov plays Orson Welles, orchestrating the madness going out over the airwaves, this time Welles does not play Professor Pierson, the lead character. That honor goes to John Munson, because Welles had one of the great radio voices of all time and Munson, the veteran radio professional, has the voice that is in the ballpark.
Elevated above and behind the studio, a family — Greta Weisel, Mitch Faegre and Kathy Levine — settle down to list to Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy, only to switch channels and hear Martians have invaded New Jersey. There are tears and fears as they listen, but no panic.
Chris Nollet voices doomed reporter Carl Phillips, and the over-the-top enthusiasm of Brad Damon’s character is drolly ironic. Karen Niedermier, Anne Stephen, Kendra Carlson and Rod Graf all have chances to be interesting both on the air and just sitting in their seats enjoying the wild ride.
Once the station break pops the balloon, and a phone call from the president of CBS hints at the turmoil happening out in the real world, the program focuses on the drama of Munson as Professor Pierson, wandering a devastated New Jersey countryside and confronting an artilleryman with crazy ideas (Kirov, in a mesmerizing performance).
Back as Welles, Kirov provides the program's original postscript. There is no epilogue. We already know the rest of the story.If you go
What: Wise Fool Theater's production of "The War of the Worlds" by Howard Koch
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2:00 p.m. Sunday through Oct. 14
Where: Lincoln Park Middle School Auditorium, 3215 W. 3rd St.
How much: Tickets start at $17 adults, $14 seniors and students, $10 children 12 and younger. Matinees are pay what you can.
Online: www.wisefooltheater.com or (218) 269-4953