As a child one of my favorite Halloween activities was listening to a taped radio rebroadcast of The War of the Worlds. In my memory it’s always during a power outage, candles flickering, my father scaring us kids even more by playing scratchy old records afterwards on a creepy vintage Victrola. Though the voice of Orson Welles instantly connected me to primal fear, there was always something in that rumbling tone that felt safe, an underlying comic lifeline, a wink. But my father made sure to explain that wink got Welles in a hell of a lot of trouble.
In SCENA Theatre’s recreation of the October 30, 1938 broadcast, Regen Wilson nails that Wellesian voice just right. But the production itself is too faithful to a fault. Simply too much of a recreation, it strangely fails to mine the greater implications of the original broadcast. It feels like a dusty museum piece, playing to an almost empty house the night I visited. Talented actors, a fine production design, all on display for what purpose? When one can download the original in a few minutes and be frightened by Welles himself, what could the intent of such a performance be?
That almost empty house preyed on my mind while writing this review. There is no worse feeling when you love theater. But I have to be honest, all that reverential recreation made for a dry night out. The confines of this conceit are just too restraining for SCENA, which only released itself into what it does best – chaotic surrealism – in the final minute. It all adds up to lost opportunities. And considering this is a remount of their 2006 production, the safe choices are even more mystifying.
At first glance, this seems a respectable production to introduce you to Welles’ infamous prank about a Martian invasion. It’s well-acted with good production values, taking up an easy hour of your time in the H Street Playhouse. Continue reading