Anticipation had run high, partly because of the Colony’s prior record ("Royal Hunt of the Sun," "Look Homeward, Angel" and even such semihits as "Tarboosh!"); partly because of the cultish and/or popular fascination with the "Chronicles" themselves; partly because this was to be Bradbury’s own adaptation; and mostly because the Colony’s artistic director, Terrence Shank, was taking charge.
Shank did not merely direct, he also produced, designed, conceived, assembled and in every way orchestrated this remarkable production. With the first-rate contributions of Patrick Duffy Whitbeck and Conrad Wolff (who designed the Martian costumes, wigs, makeup and accessories), Michael Minor (projections), Paula Starr (who executed Shank’s complex lighting design), Don Woodruff (earth costumes), J. Everett Templin (who executed and "articulated" Shank’s set design) Janet Stout (who did as much for Whitbeck and Wolff’s Martian costumes) and Shank’s intricate sound design, the Colony’s technical achievement almost outshine Bradbury’s sci-fi inventiveness by interpreting it so faithfully and so creatively.
It does, in some areas, overcome clarity. Bearing in mind the principal person to take into account is not the Bradbury fan (who has read everything Bradbury has written six times over and won’t have any trouble with coherence) but the person who walks in cold, transitions in the "colonization" section of the piece (most of Act II) are often muddled. The scenes with the House of Usher, Stendahl and Bigelow and Garret (Albert Lord, J. Everett Templin, Frank Birney), Walter Grip and Genevieve (Joey Rosendo and Lisa Fresk) are not easy to connect for the uninitiated. Bradbury’s doomsday philosophy, written long before our own ecology and earth movements, seems a bit shallow and oversimplified. Yet the crux of its warnings still holds. Finally, what the "Chronicles" is all about, some 30 years after the initial writing, (done prior even to Alan Shepard’s virginal assault on space), is the exceptional degree of success with which this work of pure imagination has been made theatrically valid.
In that regard, Shank’s achievement is stunning. He has created a luminous, antiseptic world in the Studio Playhouse (white nylon dome, gleaming plexiglass floor) where golden Martian with strange eyes (slanted, or round and hollow) stare at a landscape decidedly foreign to anything we know.
Their shiny costumes of silver and gold vaguely remind us of lost Mayan civilizations or the mysteries of ancient Egypt — a rich, formal, angular attire. Their music is the music of the spheres, its instruments sculpted shards of plexiglass that sound like cacophonous lute and harp. Their sensibilities are remote, incomprehensible, yet paradoxically docile, wise and vulnerable. Man is the ogre, the callous invader and brute destroyer — except for the brief and tragic tale of Spender (Michael Fleck), the only one of the earthly expeditioners who understood, and wanted to change things, and failed . . .
Shank’s otherworldly sound effects (rockets, music, voices, rumblings), Minor’s projections of the Martian landscape (as eerie, majestic and awesome as Shelley’s Ozymandias) and the studied, mechanical movement, golden makeup flecked with color, polished bald heads of the Marian men, pyramidal hairstyles of the Martian women, all conspire to create a perfect foreign reality — an amazing coherent world that, for all its strangeness, has a core more sensitized than our, more advanced, more seemingly prescient, yet rooted in humanism.
Most remarkable is that Shank (with all the help and support of the Playhouse’s owners, Kathryn and Mark Fuller) has put it all on stage without compromise. He has surrounded himself with a huge company of strong performers who can not only act (as they indeed do well and with diversification), but many of whom have also contributed significantly to the massive technical tasks. It is this powerful total impact that makes Bradbury’s philosophies pale in comparison. The metaphysical cuisine that he serves is not always quite up to the lavishness of the service and setting.
So be it. For the sake of theatrical lucidity — and in the long run perhaps for the sake of just the kind of depth that we miss in the reading of "Chronicles" — it would be interesting to focus more on a monotheme: the Spender-Captain Wilder (Robert Ackerman) story being the obvious most interesting thread. In another year, perhaps? Or for another generation?
Meanwhile, at a $5 ticket, "Martian Chronicles" at the Studio Playhouse, 1944 Riverside Drive, is a steal and a must. We understand the show, which takes a hiatus in September (some badly needed rest after all that work), is sold out through the end of August. It will, however, resume its run in October.
This, by the way, is an experience
for everyone aged 6 and up. And one must hope that the hiatus and the show’s
obvious popularity will persuade the Colony to seriously consider a further
Copyright 1977 Los Angeles