Bricolage re-creates on-spot 'War of the Worlds' radio play
October 29, 2010 4:00 AM
Tami Dixon and Jeffrey Carpenter, heads of Bricolage theater, anticipate a Martian attack in "War of the Worlds."
By Christopher Rawson Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The "War of the Worlds" is a funny/grim tale for Halloween, yes -- but on the sophisticated side, in the way that the pop cultural entertainment of one era (think Warhol, think Shakespeare) becomes the art of another.
And in this case, the production by Bricolage ("making artful use of what's at hand") isn't a one-off, plopping down some holiday-specific show in the middle of their usual programming. Instead, it's the end to the company's annual month-by-month series, Midnight Radio, which is a misnomer only in that it isn't at midnight or on the radio, though it may be, later.
What it does is make performance art out of the way radio plays used to be performed, before recording technology made the on-the-spot creation of sound effects unnecessary. Half the fun is watching the Bricolage "Foley artists" use pebbles, shoes, fabric, wind machines and thunder sheets to create sound effects which, when you close your eyes, sound like the real thing.
But generally you don't close your eyes, because watching the how is more fun than just hearing the what. You should do it occasionally, though, to give your imagination that extra workout -- and since it will help Jeffrey Carpenter to sound somewhat more like Orson Welles than he does with your eyes open.
Orson is present because the original "War of the Worlds" was an Oct. 30, 1938, radio show, by his Mercury Theatre, that was so successful some listeners who missed the initial disclaimers really believed Earth (well, New Jersey) was being invaded by bellicose Martians. Bricolage uses that original script but seamlessly moves it to Western Pennsylvania, having the mysterious canisters come down first at McConnells Mill, interviewing an astronomer from the Allegheny Observatory and tracking the aliens toward Downtown Pittsburgh. Lightening this grim story are the very clever mock commercials.
The many-voiced actors playing all the parts are Michael Fuller, Jeffrey Howell, Sheila McKenna and Jason McCune, which is to say some of the best local talent, with Bricolage leaders Tami Dixon and Mr. Carpenter handling the Foley chores and doing voices, as well. Andrew J. Paul provides impressive projections.
They all perform with variety and aplomb. Much of the pleasure is sharing in the magic, seeing an actor transformed with the twist of a vocal cord. It's like being in the audience and backstage at the same time, seeing how something is made and enjoying the product, too.
Midnight Radio typically includes live music as a mid-show feature. In this case it's the astonishing Ortner-Roberts Duo plus-one, fitting in seamlessly as the 1930s dance band whose performance is interrupted by the bulletins of Martian invasion. They also provide mid-show music and, if you're smart enough to stick around, a small added concert at the end. They're reason enough to attend.
Not that you need more reason than the throwback radio show, in which nostalgia is transformed into something new to most of us.
"War" may eventually show up on WYEP-FM, as have previous episodes of Midnight Radio -- a good thing, because you may not be able to get in tonight or Saturday, anyway.