Since I only vaguely remember the TV series the “Twilight Zone” it was with a certain amount of trepidation that I attended Theatre Schmeater’s “Twilight Zone Live”, at ACT Theatre on opening night, Friday April 6th. Although I had a vague premonition that Twilight Zone had a cult following, I was not prepared for the delightful audience enthusiasm which added to the charm of the evening. It was not quite on a par with the audiences in Rocky Horror Picture Show but give it time.
The original “Twilight Zone” was an anthology TV series running between 1959 to 1964 combing science fiction, horror, fantasy and the paranormal. One of the significant characteristics was the spooky narrator, played by the producer and writer, Rod Serling. He chose to set the stories in imaginary places and times, not just to create suspense and disbelief, but also to have hidden topical messages, in the days when TV was heavily censured.
Theater Schmeater offered three of the episodes during the course of one evening. “The Howling Man” by Charles Beaumont with Chris MacDonald playing David Ellington, recounts the misadventures of a traveling American who stumbles on a pseudo-monastery inCentral Europe, shortly after World War I. The ensuing battle, between truth and deception and a moral commentary on the nature of war, was well acted by Carter Rodriquez as Kristophorus, John Q. Smith as Brother Jerome, Matt Fulbright as Howling Man and Libby Bernard as the housekeeper. Carter Rodriquez and John Q. Smith both had superb deep bass voices which they used effectively.
The best episode of the evening was “The Jeopardy Room” about a cold war communist defector, in an unnamed neutral city, being pursued by his former interrogator, Commissar Vassilov. Played exquisitely by Buddy Mahoney, Vassilov was the epitome of the Cold War bad-guy: eccentric, witty, well-spoken, sophisticated, amusingly sadistic and ruthless. Vassilov was so convincing, he could have easily been a James Bond villain. In keeping with the conventions of Cold War drama, the sidekick was naturally named Boris, played by Chris MacDonald. Although this episode did not have an element of unreality about it, the horrific cold war violence was very menacing.
“A Penney for your Thoughts” was a throw back to a more innocent era, when powerful but respectable men told their mistresses that they could not get a divorce, when office romances were more innocent and when newsboys still sold that obsolete method of getting news: the newspaper. During this episode, an authentically dressed glamour girl had a short walk-on, wearing a period sheath dress and the female status symbol of the era-a MINK STOLE. Congratulations to the costumer for putting it all together, it was spot-on.
Although the set was simple, the background music was well-chosen, with lots of cellos playing spooky melodies in minor keys, and the sound effects created a dangerous menacing atmosphere. Tim Moore, who was both the narrator and the director, had the same dark heavy-featured look of Rod Serling and in general had the voice to pull it off, but his diction was splashy and so it was difficult to understand him.
The audience loved it and even this cynical critic got involved in the general hilarity. Congratulations to the Schmee, keep it coming.
“Twilight Zone Live” Theatre Schmeater, in association with ACT’s Central Health Lab. The Bullitt Cabaret, 700 Union Street, Seattle April 7, 12, 13, 14, 19, 20, 21, 26, 27, 28. 8:30 pm for tickets ACT box office (206) 292-7676 or acttheatre.org.