Fans of old-school science fiction (especially the thoughtful, romantic genre that foreshadowed The twilight zone and star trek) should find something to enjoy in the Classical Theater Company’s adaptation of HG Wells’ famous 1898 novel, War of the Worlds. This production, while only occasionally striking an ominous tone with success, lends weight to the confusion and terror of seeing his world turned upside down by a force too strong to fight.
Following the story of a Martian invasion of Earth in the mid-1800s, Wells’ novel deals with the fallout after an alien pod crash-landed in the English pastoral town of Woking, unleashing a barrage of horrors from the stars. However, by modern narrative standards, the story is more like war tales, focusing more on the trials and hardships of the survivors than the strangeness of the invaders. The story is less concerned with the phantasmagoria of the alien and the unknown and more concerned with humanity having its home destroyed, violently and without warning.
The narrative is anchored in the journey of two ordinary earthlings, a man named George and his wife Jane. The two are living in Woking, Surrey when the Martians land, and are among the first two to see them. They are quickly forced to flee as the Martian technology proves vastly superior to the weapons and cannons the English are bringing against them, and the pair set off for the countryside. However, they are soon separated and forced to survive on their own.
George soon encounters a severely traumatized priest with whom he takes shelter in an abandoned farmhouse, while Jane is rescued by an “artillery man” who dreams of creating a new underground society and ultimately reclaiming Earth from the Martians. During this section of the story, the initial horror of the invasion begins to give way to despair as we see the true psychological impact of the Martian invasion on the survivors. The pacing also improves during this section, as the dialogue shifts from the narration taken from the original novel to the actual interactions between the characters, collapsing the sense of distance one has felt between the characters thus far.
Adapter Chris Iannacone did a lot to deepen the characters. In Wells’ novel, George is merely an anonymous narrator, while his wife is a much more secondary character. However, Iannocone wisely humanized them and molded them as co-protagonists, giving Jane part of the narrator’s story. For example, in this adaptation, it is Jane who first sees the Martians in their unarmored form. Also, in the original novel, the narrator lives with the artillery man after the priest is taken by the Martians. This adaptation casts Jane in her place, which not only serves to enhance her role in the narrative and give her more voice, but also cuts both parts of the story down so that they happen simultaneously, allowing the audience to draw parallels between George’s struggles and Jane’s.
These changes are rewarded at the play’s climax when George and Jane, almost hopeless, travel to London in search of other survivors and find themselves near a motionless Martian war machine. Audience members at the performance I attended reacted with audible “aws” as they watched the couple reunite after struggling so much with each other.
The story ends with the death of the Martians, apparently due to exposure to terrestrial pathogens to which humans had developed immunity. The survivors are quickly able to begin to rebuild society, but retain a sense of anxiety that more Martians may come and complete what their comrades could not. We meet at an ominous but hopeful pace, with George and Jane reminding us to never take our safety and superiority for granted.
Throughout the play, much of the dialogue is told through narration, which can get stilted at times, though attempts are made to subvert this by using lights, sounds, and projections to simulate Martian technology. The projections use shadow puppets (a collaboration between puppet consultant Justin Dunford, lighting designer and video editor Edgar Guajardo, and puppeteer Kalob Martinez) to give us a visual of the aliens. Although the execution leaves something to be desired at times, I admire the impulse to try to evoke the images of Wells’ novel in a way that doesn’t dispel but creates space for disbelief.
The sound effects, produced by sound designer Jon Harvey, are more successful. The eerie sounds generated by Harvey are a reminder of why Orson Welles’ radio adaptation was so successful. it can be difficult to generate visuals that effectively evoke the afterlife, but the auditory can be manipulated much more easily. Also, the disturbing effect is greater when we can only partially locate something. (Why do you think creaky floors are so common in the horror genre?)
Performance-wise, Gabriel Regojo and Callina Anderson are both in good shape as George and Jane, though the fact that much of their dialogue is narration robs them of the ability to connect. fully to each other and sometimes makes their performances seem more reserved. air. Jeff McMorrough and Shanae’a Moore are less encumbered by these demands and are able to inhabit their situations more fully. Moore is particularly excellent as a priest, whose mental collapse gives voice to the psychedelic trauma the invasion stirs.
Of course, it’s hard not to draw parallels between a history of invasion and colonization and current events unfolding in Ukraine. While this adaptation doesn’t itself draw those parallels, one can’t help but draw from the final monologue a mandate to not take for granted the securities we enjoy and to understand the horrors that can come, not from the sky. , but from our own Earth. neighbors. Wells himself was particularly interested in the British colonization of Tazmania when he wrote the novel, and the story contains echoes of these themes. Namely, what does it mean to have your whole existence turned upside down by an external force that considers you expendable? More importantly, what does it mean to be powerless to defend against such forces.
This adaptation, despite its flaws, maintains this humanity and this suspense throughout. It’s a strong reminder of the potential for science fiction to tell deeply human stories, using otherworldly lenses to better understand our own world. This production manages to keep these elements sufficiently balanced so that we leave not only with the satisfaction of having consumed a hearty theatrical meal, but with a renewed desire to reflect on our place in this world.
War of the Worlds is now taking place at the DeLuxe Theater, located at 3303 Lyons Avenue. The production runs until May 1, with post-show talks taking place after each Sunday matinee. Tickets are $25 for adults, $20 for seniors, and $10 for students or teachers. For tickets, visit www.classicaltheatre.org or contact the box office at (713) 963-9665.