'War of the Worlds' to launch theatre season

Student actors prepare for 'War of the Worlds.'Rehearsals are under way for “War of the Worlds,” which will open SUNY Oswego’s theatre season on Wednesday, Oct. 14.

Adapted by Howard Koch from the H.G. Wells novel, “War of the Worlds” was first produced for radio on Oct. 30, 1938. The Mercury Theatre, headed by a 23-year-old Orson Welles, performed the script live, with Welles playing Professor Pierson, the Princeton astronomer who helped guide listeners through the devastation and havoc following a Martian invasion. The original airing famously led some listeners to panic, believing an actual invasion was taking place.

The Wells novel was first published in 1897 and reflected its author’s ability to ground an implausible story in scientific and technological fact, said director Mark Cole, professor and chair of theatre. Known for such books as “The Invisible Man,” “The Island of Dr. Moreau” and “The Time Machine,” Wells referred to much of his writing as “fiction about the future.”

Koch set Wells’ very English story in an American setting, and instead of the destruction of actual areas around London, the radio version placed the invasion in New Jersey and New York and compressed the action by using a documentary style of storytelling.

“The script continues to be performed and offers the opportunity for a company to employ the techniques of live radio, which used an ingenious array of objects to create the sound effects,” Cole said.

“Our production pays homage to the landmark radio show, but places the story in a contemporary context with some surprising twists,” he added. “Koch’s re-working of the Wells’ story is told in language that is vivid and immediate. Contained in this ‘fiction about the future’ is a cautionary tale that is still relevant.”

In the script, a radio show is interrupted by announcements about atmospheric disturbances on the planet Mars. What is thought to be a meteorite crashes into farmland in Grover’s Mill, N.J. The audience receives updates and firsthand accounts that make it apparent that a full-fledged Martian invasion is under way. As panic and destruction escalate, the question of who will survive comes into focus.

The production features Jessica Quindlen as reporter Carla Phillips, Nick Pike as astronomer Richard Pierson, Charles Smith as a radio announcer and Mr. Wilmuth, the owner of the farm where the Martians land, Steve Handzel as a policeman and a flight commander, Chris Walker as the stranger with a plan for survival, and Josh Gadek as an army commander struggling to maintain control over the situation.

Knate Roy, Kimberly Greenawalt, Katherine Boswell, Sarah Sterling, Stephanie Martinez, Courtney Bennett and Kimberly Saunders are in the radio play interrupted by the broadcast and play various announcers and featured characters. Daniel Distasio and Zachary Mackrell play a gunner and a radio operator, respectively, when the action moves to the heat of the battle with the Martians. 

Scene and lighting design are by Timothy Baumgartner, with costume design by Kitty Macey. Sound designer is Steve Shull.

The student production team includes stage manager Ben Harrison, assistant director Eric Shuler and assistant stage managers Robert Fusco and Melanie Tarrant.

“War of the Worlds” will preview at 8 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 13, with all seats $5. Regular shows have 8 p.m. curtains Oct. 14 to Oct. 17 with a 2:30 p.m. Sunday matinee Oct. 18. Tickets to the regular run cost $12 for adults ($10 for seniors or students, $7 for SUNY Oswego students).

The production is suggested for ages 12 and above.

Tickets are available at tickets.oswego.edu or by calling Tyler box office at 312-2141. Patrons with disabilities who require assistance should call the box office to make arrangements.

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PHOTO CAPTION: “War” actors—SUNY Oswego students Knate Roy, Zachary Mackrell and Daniel Distasio are among the cast of “War of the Worlds,” which will open the college’s theatre season on Oct. 14. The production is an adaptation of the radio play that inadvertently triggered fears of a Martian invasion in 1938.

(Posted: Sep 17, 2009)

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