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Unpacking The Vision of Ray Bradbury at The Whitefire Theatre

By Ernest Kearney  —  It is fitting that the late writer Ray Bradbury (August 22, 1920 – June 5, 2012) should find himself resurrected on an L. A. stage as he espoused passion for both the city and its theatre.

Back in the day it was not uncommon to see him bicycling through Hollywood (he never learned to drive), delving into volumes at Papa Bach’s or Dutton’s Books, or entrenched with a sleeping bag, ice cooler and change of wardrobe in preparation for Filmex’s 50-hour sci-fi marathon.

He was always willing to throw his support into theatrical projects, even at the smallest of stages, as L.A. theatre struggled to revitalize itself in the early 1960s after an extended period of dormancy.

A trio of Bradbury’s short stories, The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit, Device Out of Time (from his 1957 novel Dandelion Wine) and The Day It Rained Forever were adapted for the stage and produced at the Coronet Theatre on La Cienega with actors like F. Murray Abraham and Richard Bull at the outset of their careers.  Bradbury allied with South Pasadena’s Fremont Centre Theatre where a play version of his dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451 enjoyed a successful run.

But it was the stage adaptation of The Martian Chronicles in 1977 that made the most indelible mark on L.A. theatre.  Opening two weeks after Star Wars exploded on the silver screen, expectations for the life of the production were gloomy.

Expectations were wrong.

Six nights a week for seven months the production filled the 600 seats at the El Rey Theatre on Wilshire Boulevard which had recently been renovated from a movie theatre to a legitimate stage.  It was the first genuinely successful independent production in Los Angeles and proved such an occurrence was possible.

( l-r) Eric Keitel, Robert Paterno (Photo by Christine Zirbel. Courtesy of Whitefire Theatre)

It also serves as one of the reasons I’m writing this review.

The El Rey was in my neighborhood and being a stereotypical nerdy preteen at the time, I devoured science fiction.  I would “second-act” the show over twenty times, sneaking in with the ticket holding audience at the end of the intermission.

In the show The Universe, itself, filled the function of Shakespeare’s Chorus and Thornton Wilder’s Stage Manager.   The actress Nancy Parsons played the role of The Universe.  I would sit in the audience entranced by her, wondering how it was the walls of the El Rey weren’t burst open by the power of her presence.

The experience was life altering for me.

In Martians – An Evening with Ray Bradbury, at the Whitefire Theatre, actor Charlie Mount and director Jeff G. Rack have attempted to weave the writer and his work into a rich theatrical tapestry capturing the essence of the man and his art.

The result is wildly baroque, madly ambitious, passionately driven and only mildly successful.   The blame for this lack of success can be placed squarely at the feet of the undertaking’s cluttered concept and lackluster pacing.

Mount and Rack bloat their production with plot lines, theatrical frazzle dazzle, a cast of ten and Bradbury’s own larger than life persona.

They’ve put everything into it except the proverbial kitchen sink and an intermission. With a running time of two hours, the sink wasn’t missed, the absence of an intermission is another matter.

Mount and Rack have adapted four early Bradbury short stories – The Strawberry Window (1954), The Messiah (1969), Night Call, Collect (1949)  and The Blue Bottle (1950) which they then proceed to disjoin and reshuffle before stretching the shreds over the evening’s length.

The idea, I believe, was to provide Bradbury (Mount) with pieces to be reassembled as he expresses his philosophy on the creative drive.

It is a clever idea that fails.

In their fragmented state, the narrative’s quartet exercises no hold on the audience and allows the actors no foundation.  Nor are the stories Bradbury’s best.  The cast given the responsibility of the assorted tales struggle valiantly but only Melissa Lugo is able to conjure up an emotionally satisfying moment for the audience, but this is too little and arrives too late.

The evening is at its best when the focus is solely on Bradbury, to where one can’t help wishing Mount and Rack had opted on structuring this venture as a solo show.

Mount does an admirable job in capturing the author and even bares a distinct resemblance to his character in everything but altitude.

The strongest writing of the show is found not in what the writer wrote but the words of the writer himself, this is true from the beginning with Bradbury’s opening line,

“The universe thinks, therefore we are.”

Bradbury’s observation about his craft are seeded throughout the evening,

“You’ve got to jump off the cliff all the time,”

he advises,

“and build your wings on the way down.”

In closing this review, I leave all involved in this undertaking with my own favorite words of wisdom from Bradbury,

“You have to know how to accept rejection and reject acceptance.”

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NOTE: Featured Image — Charlie Mount as Ray Bradbury (Photo by Eric Keitel  /  Courtesy of Whitefire Theatre)

MARTIANS –  An Evening with Ray Bradbury

Presented by Arcane Theatreworks and Whitefire Theatre

On Stage
Thru
November 2

Venue:

Whitefire Theatre
13500 Ventura Blvd. (at Sunnyslope)
Sherman Oaks, CA 91423

Time:

8:00 pm

Cast:

Charlie Mount,
John Cogan, Jason Frankovitz, Paul Gunning,
Eric Keitel, Melissa Lugo, Michael Perl,
Richard Mooney, Donald Moss, Robert Paterno


For Complete Schedule, Tickets and Reservations Click HERE.


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Written by

An award-winning L.A. playwright and rabble-rouser of note who has hoisted glasses with Orson Welles, been arrested on three continents and once beat up Charlie Manson. His first play, "Among the Vipers" was a semi-finalist in the Julie Harris Playwriting Competition and was featured in the Carnegie-Mellon Showcase of New Plays. It was produced at the NPT Theater in Ashland, Oregon and Los Angeles’ celebrated Odyssey Ensemble Theatre. His following play, “The Little Boy Who Loved Monsters” was produced at The Hollywood Actors Theater, where he earned praise from the Los Angeles Times for his “…inordinately creative writing.” The play went on to numerous other productions including Berlin’s The Black Theatre under the direction of Rainer Fassbinder who wrote in his program notes of Kearney, “He is a skilled playwright, but more importantly he is a dangerous one.” Ernest Kearney has worked as literary manager or as dramaturge for among others The Hudson Theater Guild, Nova Diem and the Odyssey Ensemble Theatre, where he still serves on the play selection committee. He has been the recipient of two Dramalogue Awards and a finalist or semi-finalist, three times, in the Julie Harris Playwriting Competition. His work has been performed by Michael Dunn, Sandra Tsing Loh, Jack Colvin and Billy Bob Thornton, and to date, either as playwright or director, he has upwards of a hundred and thirty productions under his belt, including a few at the Bob Baker Marionette Theater as puppeteer. After a wild and misspent youth, which lasted well into middle age, Kearney has settled down and is focusing on his writing, as well as living happily ever after with his lovely wife Marlene. Ernest’s stage reviews and social essays can be found at TheTVolution.com and workingauthor.com. Follow him on Facebook.

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