Where: 441 E. Washington St., Syracuse, NY
When: Through November 23rd
Review by Nicholas Schmiedicker
The World of Ray Bradbury is a series of three, vignette-style plays based on the short stories, The Pedestrian, The Veldt, and To the Chicago Abyss. Each follows the typical Bradbury model, a science fiction world of dystopia that are layered with a moral theme meant to illuminate the minds of those in the audience.
First was The Pedestrian, directed by C.J. Young. It tells the story of Leonard Mead (Daryl Acevedo) and Robert Stockwell (David Minkihiem). Both Mead and Stockwell live in a world where each citizen is dominated by television. Mead convinces Stockwell to join him in walking around the city, something that no one does beside Mead. A robotic police cruiser eventually stops them and demands to know why they aren’t at home watching television.
It’s a tale of dystopia in which the outside world goes unnoticed and civilization falls into disrepair as everyone stays inside and watches television. The reaction of the police cruiser to Mead’s declaration that his profession is being a writer says everything one needs to know and can be seen as a literary prelude to Bradbury’s most iconic work Fahrenheit 451.
The Pedestrian featured a puzzling technique to depict the duo’s walk through the neighborhood. As they left Stockwell’s apartment, the two actors exited the stage and a video projection played a pre-recorded video of their walk, a sequence that was the heart of the play and lasted a surprising amount of time.
The video used unconvincing and jarring special effects as a stand in for the outside world that spoke of a green screen and amateur video-editing skills. It was a surprise and while had the potential to be an interesting theatrical moment, ultimately failed due to poor execution.
Of the three vignettes, The Pedestrian was the roughest. The performances and mannerisms of the actors as they interacted with one another were overtly dramatic. And the ending sequence where each character spoke to a recorded voice that acted as the police cruiser were overzealous and plagued with overlapping lines and missed cues.
Next was The Veldt, directed by Ty Marshal. The play tells the story of a family from the future. The parents, George (Jamie Bruno) and Lydia (Rita Worlock) have installed a virtual reality “nursery” for their children, Peter (David Kempf) and Wendy (Sydney Dennison), that can replicate any environment they imagine. It’s a chilling tale that focuses on the negative affects on children of living in a fully automated house that cares for them more than their own parents.
The set design, following in the same vein as The Pedestrian, was sparse. It relied on two screens that served as a doorway into the nursery and a bench and chair for the separate rooms of the home. Costume-design was based on the 1950’s idea of what the future would look like (think the Jetsons) and worked well for the setting.
Audio recordings of each environment, particularly the African veldt, were enough to aid the imagination of the audience without becoming too domineering like in The Pedestrian. The low, rumbling growl of the lions haunted the small theatre space with each visit to the nursery and acted as a sign of looming dread for the characters.
George and Peter were the standout performances of this vignette. Bruno had the tone and cadence for a 1950’s father that forces himself to view his life in a model suburban home with rose-colored glasses. Kempf, meanwhile, was the epitome of a creepy child with a monotone that made the hair on the back of your neck stand up with each delivered line. While these are not the performances that demand awards, the cast of The Veldt still performed admirably.
Rounding out the last of our vignettes is To the Chicago Abyss directed by Liam Fitzpatrick. The last vignette is the truest example of a dystopia, as a wizened old man (Jeffrey Gorney) relates the simple pleasures of the past to a group that can seemingly only remember the destroyed city they live in.
This vignette offers a chance to bring in the previous cast members as well as another half dozen or so to listen to this old man’s monologue about the little things in life.
To the Chicago Abyss featured the most props and detailed set design, not to mention the layered rags of clothing each of the cast members wore. The performance of Gorney as the old man was spectacular as he delivered his lines with a somberness that captured the audience’s attention. It was a fitting and touching end to The World of Ray Bradbury.
Rarely Done Productions’ take on The World of Ray Bradbury is commendable for what it attempts to do and overall provides an enjoyable night of morality in a dystopian package. While not all three of the vignettes were on the same level of quality, The World of Ray Bradbury is a well-produced homage to one of the greatest storytellers of the 20th century.