Written by Scotty Keister
It’s summer, so that means one thing: The Twilight Zone returns to Stages Theatre. This year’s offering presents one classic and two lesser-known episodes, one of them is a real champ. Every year, producer/director Darri Kristin pores through the entire TZ catalog to find episodes that would be possible to stage. With the new addition of a backdrop projector, the list just got a little easier, making scene changes more dramatic and recognizable.
The trouble with these available stories. The Zone was not above a certain number of clinkers. When you’re pouring out a new episode every week, you have to take what you get. TZ had a propensity to repeat itself a lot and fumble with tired scifi clichés. In this instance, opening episode “Back There” is not a well-written or particularly original offering. A group of card players at a Washington DC gentleman’s club argue about time travel, and before you know it one of them finds himself transported back to 1865, the day before Lincoln’s assassination. Even though we know it’s impossible, he tries to prevent the murder from happening. We’re never sure why. Just because he wants to, I guess. The twist ending to the story occurs when he’s transported back to modern times, right back at his club. Things are not as he left them. Aside from Mark Coyan’s off-beat portrayal of John Wilkes Booth, this episode doesn’t offer much bang.
For my money, the best episode of the three is the middle one, “The Lonely.” A man imprisoned on an asteroid, completely alone, is gifted with a female robot companion by a sympathetic prison official. Over time, he comes to love her as a human, right up until the tragedy that ensues when he learns he’s been pardoned and must return to Earth. Sean Hesketh plays Corry, the prisoner, with a sincere internal pain and lust for life, and Melissa Winter, as Alicia the robot, has the kind of wide-eyed innocence you would expect from a creature discovering life for the first time. The episode works as a drama on stage because it’s essentially a character story and works as a true tragedy. The red Martian landscape background works effectively as a barren tone-setter for the story.
The final episode was “To Serve Man” a TZ classic. This one has possibly the most legendary dialog line in Zone history, but I won’t reveal that here for those who aren’t familiar. It’s a classic surprise ending, but it doesn’t really have the punch in the gut shock that it should have. The story concerns an alien race, the Kanamits, who have come to Earth to offer peace and prosperity. Initially feared, the 9-foot tall Kanamits soon prove their promises to be true. Earth is transformed into a peaceful, plentiful planet, and soon earthlings are boarding Kanamit ships by the thousands to pay a visit to the alien home planet. Mark Coyan is effective as the cynical narrator who is tasked with the translation of the book the Kanamits have left, titled To Serve Man. Samuel Copeland as the Kanamit is impressive, as is his alien outfit designed by director David Campos. But this story feels too large for the stage and the whole fate of earth never really feels in danger. The problem with pulling off these surprise/twist ending stories on stage is they don’t have the benefit of quick cuts and camera angles to emphasize the drama. Or maybe it’s just my familiarity with it. But for me, this one lacked punch. The slow build to the shock ending just wasn’t there.
It’s always a pleasure to see The Twilight Zone on stage every year. It’s a show I look forward to. Darri Kristin and David Campos do an amazing job pulling it off year after year, with a minuscule budget but impressive amount of imagination and stagecraft. Even when the stories aren’t up to par, it’s worth the watch. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the shows, it’s a must-see. Having grown up on TZ, I can only imagine how much fun it must be to encounter these shows for the first time, especially live on stage. For those of us feeling the nostalgia, long live Rod Serling and The Twilight Zone!
The Twilight Zone runs at Stages Theatre through August 1, Fridays and Saturdays at 10:30 pm, Sundays at 5 pm.
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