War of the Worlds, produced by Scena Theatre at H Street Playhouse

Seeing this play really made me think about the question "What is theatre?" The show is based on the radio broadcast by Orson Welles in 1938 and shows the audience what was going on in the broadcast room during the radio show. While I think this is an incredibly interesting concept, I don't necessarily think that it's good for a play. There's so much more talking than there is action, and I think it works better in it's original form than it does as a play. Don't get me wrong - the production was really very good. I just feel that the concept is more suited to the radio than the stage.

I had heard of the infamous broadcast, of course, but knew little more than that it had caused a good bit of hysteria at the time. Having grown up in the era of television and being able to see everything, it was really interesting for me to get a look into that time period, when people had little choice but to believe what they heard on the radio. Welles and his staff also made incredibly meticulous choices when they were planning things to make sure that it sounded legit. The beginning of the broadcast was, in fact, the beginning of H.G. Wells' novel, "The War of the Worlds," and then they continued into a weather report and a broadcast of music from New York City. Then, gradually, the "reports" of the space ship landing started coming in until people were literally fleeing their homes in terror. At the end of the show, Welles informally broke character to tell the audience that the broadcast was a Halloween joke.

The men in the production were uniformly good. All of them had good radio voices, and really made the atmosphere ominous. Unfortunately, as good as the men were, the women were equally as bad. All five women in the ensemble were cast as listeners, and periodically made interjections about what the public was feeling during the broadcast. Every single one of them mugged and overacted so hard it was hard for me to watch them. They were a source of information about what was going on outside of the studio, but that's about it. The set was lovely and simple. I was really impressed with the costumes, though there was an inconsistency that I just couldn't get over. All of the men were wearing suits and ties... except one. He was wearing shorts and a sweater and long socks. I could not understand why he was the only one dressed differently; he was also the youngest of any of them. It was actually a tad distracting, but maybe that's just me and my costuming background. As I said, the production itself was quite good, and I think it could foster a lot of interesting discussions about what theatre should be. 3 stars.

War of the Worlds
by Orson Welles and Howard Koch
produced by Scena Theatre
H Street Playhouse
1365 H Street NE
Washington, DC
through November 28


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