Reviewed by Nancy Oliveri
Let me be clear: I love The Twilight Zone. But I think a part of creator Rod Serling’s genius is that his one-act plays, written specifically for television, play best on the small screen. These plays work well on television because the settings themselves are contained, usually an office or a living room, a restaurant, the surface of another planet or a residential neighborhood.
The Binghamton University Department of Theatre, as part of their 2013-2014 season, is presenting two “theatricalized” Twilight Zone scripts, based on the original series but adapted brilliantly for the BU stage by director Elizabeth Mozer.
At the Watters Theatre in BU’s Anderson Center, there’s a much bigger canvas upon which essentially intimate stories are being told. The sweeping sets by Karen Kozlowski and her crew are great, but their broad scope tends to slow down the action just a bit as actors necessarily take a while to get from one part of the stage to another.
Many times I have seen the original version of one of the two teleplays chosen for this production. “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street” is about the mind games that people play when they need a scapegoat. I had never seen the other episode, “Dust,” but it is easily recognizable as one of Serling’s famed morality plays. “Dust” is about the need to believe in the power of love and compassion, with a message as important today as when the episode first aired in 1961. He left it up to the viewer to decide, or at least acknowledge, the dilemma of the characters.
Both scripts succeed, as long as you remember you are watching a stage production, and you stop trying to make comparisons to what you might remember from watching The Twilight Zone. And they certainly work very well for anyone in the audience who has never seen the TV show. For Binghamton, which Serling claimed as his hometown, I’d say the percentage of those folks would be very small. There is a lot of local pride surrounding his career and genius.
I was disposed to like, even love, a lot about this production, but two things really stood out for me: first, the original choreography by Mozer in a transitional scene from “Monsters,” which gives an air of the avant-garde as well as straight dramatic art. And second, for both stories, I liked the use of two people, rather than just one to narrate, because, let’s face it … you can’t have something that looks enough like Twilight Zone without a guy in a slim black suit and tie. The only thing missing was the cigarette.
In this case, we have Andrew Bryce, who doesn’t try to impersonate Serling, which is a good thing, but we also have the amazing Imani Williams, most recently seen in the non-BU production, Colorblind – A Musical. Williams doesn’t sing or dance here or use a British accent as she does in Colorblind, but she clearly has fun with her role as the female mirror image of Bryce. When the two co-narrators meet before and after the action of the plays, it’s fun to hear them say in unison — pause — “The Twilight Zone.”
Notable performances in “Dust” are given by Jonathan Molyneaux as Sykes, the energetic conman, and Danielle Nigro as Senora Gallegos, who lets him con her … or does she?
Rob Tendy is appealing as the matter-of-fact Sheriff Koch, who has compassion for his jail prisoner, Louis (Kevin Walsh). Walsh is also George, an important player in “Monsters.”
The other suburbanites of Maple Street are all appropriately paranoid as played by Natasha Alimanestianu, Anthony Gabrielle, Jade Cayne, Mary Dziekowicz, Erik Young and Laura Potel. Tyler Downey is also very good as Charlie in “Monsters” and then as Mr. Canfield in “Dust.” I won’t say about who Kevin Gleeson and Talia Saraceno played in “Monsters,” at the risk of giving too much away. Samuel Checo is Pete Van Horn, who is just minding his own darn business, as you wish they all had.
Among the youth cast, Joshua Schull does a pretty good “Tommy,” the know-it-all comic-book-reading kid in “Monsters.” He gets upstaged a few times when he turns his back to interact with the others, making him just a little hard to hear. I was glad, however, that everyone relied on their ability to project without microphones, and most of the dialogue was audible in the acoustics of the Watters Theatre.
A shout-out to the other very young actors from the community for doing a great job as the kids in both shows: Ashley Trelease, who says a lot about her character in “Dust” by saying nothing at all; Ryan Verity, who plays a neighborhood kid and the farmer’s son, and Molly Murray. Molly gives a very confident performance in “Dust” as Estrelita, who delivers an important message from Sykes. She shows the same commitment to theater at a young age as her real-life mother, Kate Murray, who is very active locally as an actor and director. This production is a great example of the cooperation between “town and gown.”
The special effects, which I won’t spoil for you here, are fantastic and definitely evoke the original series. Be ready for a couple of surprises.
IF YOU GO: Performances are 8 p.m. today (March 8) and March 14, and 15 and 2 p.m. March 16. Visit http://www2.binghamton.edu/anderson-center/buy-tickets.html for tickets and more information.
Following the March 16 performance, the director and company will be joined by Anne Serling, author of As I Knew Him, My Dad Rod Serling, and Lawrence Kassan, founder of the Rod Serling Video Festival, for a talk-back with the audience.