In 1938, a few Lakewood acting enthusiasts got themselves together to form a company – the Lakewood Playhouse. Over on the other side of the country, some other actors made rather bigger headlines, as their radio play “War of the Worlds” started a mass panic among listeners around the country terrified at what they thought was a real Martian attack. This weekend both events come together in a satisfying 75th anniversary celebration at Lakewood Playhouse, as the infamous radio play gets a historically authentic performance full of bizarre sound effects.
“We try and do things close to the original,” says director James Venturini, who was in both the “War of the Worlds” plays held for Lakewood’s 60th and 70th anniversaries. The community theater has produced staged versions of radio plays annually for the last five years. Actors are in period costume, and for sound effects Venturini uses only real objects that could have been used in the play’s original broadcast – no electronics here.
Like Lakewood’s production, “War of the Worlds” was originally conceived of as a Halloween event. Adapted from the H.G. Wells sci-fi novel by Howard Koch, it was produced by New York theater director Orson Welles, and changed the then-stilted radio play format into something much more immediate and dramatic, alternating fake weather updates and music with narration from the novel, reset in New England and sounding like a live news broadcast.
The effect was stunning. Though announcements at the beginning and during the broadcast made it clear the play was just fiction, listeners obviously didn’t take it in, and thousands called local stations, police and newspapers, evacuating New England homes and congregating in churches. When the truth came out, they were outraged.
It’s a funny historical tidbit now, but it’s a testament to the dramatic power of the play. Part of what made that so effective were the sound effects, crucial to any radio drama. At Lakewood, audiences will see just how many people it takes to create the aural effect of a Martian attack, running from device to device as actors read their lines and recreate crowd mumbles and screams. One such device is a screw jar held inside a toilet bowl to imitate the sound of a spaceship top unscrewing. Another – one of Venturini’s favorites – is a spring inside a cardboard tube, released to make the sound of the Martian ray-guns.
“It’s amazing what can be done with just a few household things,” Venturini says.
The fun one for the audience is the sound of the propeller plane, where Venturini’s crew sticks some cardboard into an old-fashioned fan.
Says Venturini: “Usually it doesn’t shred all over the stage, but since there’s no guard we do have to be careful of our fingers.”
“War of the Worlds,” along with other short radio plays, will be performed at 8 p.m. Oct. 25, 26. $25 adults/$22 military/$21 seniors/$19 student, educator. Lakewood Playhouse, 5729 Lakewood Towne Center Blvd, Lakewood. 253-588-00042, lakewoodplayhouse.org
Rosemary Ponnekanti: 253-597-8568 email@example.com