What to do tonight in Pittsburgh: New Hazlett Theater reads Ray Bradbury

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Is it hot in here or is it just someone reading "Fahrenheit 451"?

Ha ha! Just kidding. I'm trying to get you in the mood as something interesting this way comes tonight at the New Hazlett Theater on the North Side.

It's five stories by legendary author Ray Bradbury, presented by Prime Stage Theatre as part of its Dark Night Reading Series.

According to Susan Blackman, managing director of the Prime Stage Theatre, this event is a way to keep the organization and the community busy during the "dark nights," when the theater isn't being used for presentations of "A Wrinkle in Time," the production currently being staged.

It's a medicine for melancholy as five storytellers step up front and read to you from some of Mr. Bradbury's most thought-provoking tales.

"These were all chosen by Greg Miller, a language arts teacher at Fox Chapel Senior High, and a longtime personal friend of Ray Bradbury's," Ms. Blackman said. "All of these have something to do with aging or getting ready to let something go."

Tonight's stories, as summed up by the theater group:

"Usher II" -- First published in April 1950 and reprinted a month later as a chapter of "The Martian Chronicles," it is an outraged response to two events: the Nazi book burnings of World War II and the rise of McCarthyism. "To me, it's the coolest story among them," Ms. Blackman said.

"Good-by, Grandma" -- Like so many Ray Bradbury stories, this tale, published in 1957, examines the inevitability of death, but also the durability of life, and how what we leave behind -- in this case a loving family -- can imbue our existence with a form of tangible immortality.

"Kaleidoscope" -- One of the emotional and imaginative highlights of "The Illustrated Man," first published in 1951. When a meteorite tears a spaceship in two, the astronauts on board are sent tumbling into the void on different trajectories, protected only by their spacesuits, their lives destined to end when their limited air supplies expire. The question isn't if they will be rescued, but how well they will die.

"A Scent of Sarsaparilla" -- The contrast between the cold winter of the characters' old-age present and the balmy summer of their youthful pasts is brought to bittersweet life through long paragraphs of sensory adjectives and nouns.

"There Will Come Soft Rains" -- One of the final chapters of "The Martian Chronicles" is this brief, intensely atmospheric tale lacking any human characters. The story is all description -- and that is all it needs to be. This is "showing, not telling" at its most powerful.

The storytellers are (not necessarily in this order): Alan Irvine, founder of the storytelling group StorySwap; Kathy Maron-Wood, a librarian in the children's department of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh in Oakland; Mary Morgan Smith, executive director of the Three Rivers Storytelling Festival; David Taylor Little, an actor and artistic director at The Theatre Factory in Trafford; and David Early, an actor and a member of the Pittsburgh Public Theater's education outreach program.

"They'll all be reading from the written material. It's not memorized," Ms. Blackman said. "They may or may not be using stools and stands. But they're just going to be sitting with you and telling you a story."

None of these stories is very long, ranging in length from about seven minutes to a half hour to tell. The whole evening will take about an hour and a half.

This is the third storytelling session hosted by the theater group. The other two were "The Last Lecture," by Randy Pausch and "For Professional Purposes," by Shirley R. Barasch. Each time, about 100 people turned out.

"We've chosen things that could be read without staging. So we're not limited to memoirs," said Ms. Blackman, who dismissed the idea that you might bring along a copy of the story and read along.

"You could do that, but you'd be silly," she said. "This is something where you should just close your eyes and listen to the story unfold."

Afterward, it isn't unusual for members of the audience to discuss the works with each other.

"People will be able to talk in the theater," Ms. Blackman said. "I suspect a lot of people will want to stay for a little while and do that. It kind of feels like a question-answer thing. This time, though, there will be less about the writer or the people involved and more about the stories."

The New Hazlett Theater is located in Allegheny Square East and admission is $10. Readings start at 7:30.

books - neigh_city

This story originally appeared in The Pittsburgh Press. To subscribe: http://old.post-gazette.com/trypress/ Contact Dan Majors at dmajors@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1456. First Published May 14, 2012 4:15 PM


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