‘War of the Worlds’ radio drama staged by TNT
NILES — An alien invasion is underway at Trumbull New Theatre as the community theater presents Orson Welles’ radio adaptation of “War of the Worlds.”
Lisa J. Bennett, who is directing the two performances with Kerrie Lane, said they’ve been talking about staging the show since last fall, which was the 70th anniversary of the original Mercury Theater radio broadcast, which had listeners believing the drama based on the H.G. Wells science fiction story was an actual radio newscast about an attack by aliens.
The problem is the show is closer to a one-act play in length and didn’t fit easily in TNT’s regular season.
“It’s not quite as dynamic physically as some of our others shows,” she said. “But we were looking for something to draw in people, actors who can’t or haven’t done one of our regular shows. It’s hard for people to make a big commitment and this has a shorter rehearsal period.”
The production did attract some new and infrequent performers as well as several TNT regulars. The cast includes Niki Baringer, Judy Bell, H. Keith Bowers, Jim Ewing, Jim Kilgore, Ali Limperos, Alex Lucas, Russ Nalepa, Taylor Owen, Jim Penn, Jackie Shannon and Vaughn Wesley.
Instead of presenting it as a reader’s theater production, Bennett is recreating the feel of watching a radio broadcast.
“Reader’s theater to me is hit or miss,” she said. “When you have an audience used to modern television, sitting and watching someone read isn’t very interesting. We’re recreating the studio and doing as many of the sound effects as we can old school.”
Actors will have their scripts on stage with them, just as they would if it were a radio broadcast. While that lessens the memorization demands, it presents other obstacles.
“The challenge is getting faces out of scripts,” Bennett said. “When I’m doing a regular show, I’m very quick to take the scripts away. Actors use them as a crutch, and as long as they have them, their faces are in it. I keep telling the actors, ‘You need to keep your head up. I need you looking at the audience. They want to see you.'”
The performers have to adjust their usual approach, acting less with their bodies and more with their voices. When one actor was doing a lot of gestures, Bennett had to say, “Whatever you’re trying to emote with your gestures, you have to emote with your voice even more. Two others were looking at each other like they were having a conversation. ‘No, play to the microphone rather than each other.'”