Back in 1991 or there about, I had the great honor and pleasure of meeting Ray Bradbury. Understand that Mr. Bradbury was one of the gods of my literary adolescence along with Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein. At the Western Stage in Salinas, we were mounting a staged reading of a musical version of Fahrenheit 451 and I was playing the villainous Captain Beatty. I had a wonderful dark aria. Mr. Bradbury was in attendance. He was warm and enthusiastic, and playfully bantered with my children aged twelve, ten and nine. My middle child had brought her big book of Bradbury Short Stories, which he cheerfully signed with big sweeping letters and a self-portrait cartoon that filled the page. The first act was really good, but the second act needed fixing and the great Bradbury was adamant that it was perfectly fine, so it never moved into production, at least at The Western Stage.
In the new play, Martians: An Evening With Ray Bradbury, created and written by Charlie Mount and Jeff G. Rack, the warmth and good humor of Ray Bradbury is wonderfully embodied in the performance of Mr. Mount, who engages the audience with enthusiastic, playful intimacy as he, in the guise of the great Bradbury, expounds on his childhood, his writing methodology, and the universe in general. His performance is a tour-de-force.
Along the way, Mr. Mount weaves in moments from four Martian short stories. In The Strawberry Window, Melissa Lugo and Michael Perl are an emigrant couple who left Earth for the uncertainty of a life on Mars. He embraces the challenges, while she pines for her Earthly home.
In The Blue Bottle, Beck (Paul Gunning) and Craig (Joe Seely) are futuristic fortune hunters out to bag a relic of the seemingly dead Martian civilization. They remind one of scruffy old Wild West prospectors out of a John Ford movie. They get some competition from Robert Paterno as the Searcher.
Featuring Eric Keitel as Father Niven, John T. Cogan as Bishop Kelly, and Robert Paterno as The Martian, The Messiah challenges the dearly held notions of our Earth bound religions and what they mean in the vastness of outer space.
And finally, in Night Call, Collect, what if you were the last person living on an empty planet haunted by the electronic specter of your cheeky, younger self? This is the conundrum of Old Barton played by Don Moss who is tortured by pre-programmed phone calls from his very own, very cheeky younger self (Richard Mooney). It’s enough to drive one mad.
These stories are not set pieces and they do not pretend to be complete renderings of the classic stories. Rather they are episodic and directed by Bradbury who is like a ringmaster at the circus. The ensemble invests their characters with passion and vividness and no small amount of humor.
Martians: An Evening With Ray Bradbury is impeccably produced by Messrs. Mount and Rack. Jeff Rack’s production design (with lighting by Derrick McDaniel) includes an office set representing Bradbury’s work room, which is lavishly stuffed with all kinds of odd, interesting items that inspires Bradbury who pulls certain pieces out of nooks and corners to illustrate his methods of writing, his early life, or to perform a piece of sleight-of-hand magic, which is as good as you would expect of a member of The Magic Castle. The projections by Gabrieal Griego are superb as is the sound design and original music by Joseph “Sloe” Slawinski that literally shakes the auditorium like an earthquake. Rounding out the creative staff are Judi Lewin–Martian wig and hair; Christine Zirbel–costume construction; William Hill–fight choreography; Amanda Sauter–Strawberry Window construction; and McKenzie Eckels–prop guns; and Brandon Loeser manages it all with aplomb.
It is a pleasure and a privilege to spend an evening with Ray Bradbury and some of literary creations. Whether you love Bradbury or never heard of him or read his works, Martians: An Evening With Ray Bradbury is a do-not-miss experience. Take advantage of the opportunity.
Presented by Arcane Theatreworks and Whitefire Theatre, Martians: An Evening With Ray Bradbury continues on Fridays through November 2, and on Saturday, November 10 at The Whitefire Theatre, 13500 Ventura Blvd. in Sherman Oaks (at Sunnyslope).