I find it easy to like Scott Community College's production of The War of the Worlds, an adaptation of H.G. Wells' tale of alien invasion, presented here in the radio-drama style of Orson Welles' Mercury Theatre. The performance may not be the best you'll see in the Quad Cities, but the show features so much heart - such simple pleasure in performing - that it's refreshing to sit and watch the show's young men and women play on stage.
The classic sci-fi work, here, is staged as a play within a play, bookended by scenes of the actors gathering to present Welles' radio drama, and acknowledging the innocence and mortality of radio during the television boom. Set in 1967, playwright John R. Turner's piece also features references to Des Moines; clever, authentic, and nostalgic radio commercials; and, fittingly, sound effects created by a "special-effects master" produced live on stage, and performed at Scott by the show's director, Steve Flanigin.
The sound effects are an effective touch, adding interest to a script that gets a little lost in technical explanations and, on occasion, a lack of dynamic presentation; War of the Worlds' radio drama could use more drama through more strongly vocalized emotions, as the story sometimes gets bogged down in somewhat monotone readings. Whenever my attention started to drift, however, a sound effect would be cleverly created with the use of unexpected objects, such as a roll of masking tape employed for the sound of the aliens snatching a human.
Visually, there's little to look at aside from the creation of the sounds and the actors themselves. With the show presented as a radio drama, there isn't much of a set here beyond Scott's bare stage (which, actually, almost naturally resembles a radio studio): folding chairs along the back wall; a folding table with a microphone and sound-effect objects; and two music stands and era-appropriate microphones. The actors simply sit in their chairs until they step up to a microphone, place their scripts on a stand, and read their lines with interpretive emotion.
Some of the actors, as might be expected, are better at emoting than others. While all of the players are fine, clear readers, a few of them stand out for the way they deliver their lines with genuine feeling. Sara Butcher has one of the production's larger roles as the reporter Diana, who runs around Des Moines during the invasion; Butcher displays impressive confidence in her readings and has obviously put work into shaping her character. As the pathologist William Pogue (and Diana's love interest, if I caught that correctly), Eric Clark emotes well with his deep, impressive voice. Sonya Womack excels at making her characters' feelings clear vocally and facially, portraying both the talk-show host Delores and Tammy, a human on the run from the aliens. And author Turner's excited tones, mixed with the joy in his voice, are smile-inducing, and the actor is amusing to watch as he steps into the role of astronomer Dr. Allan Staard.
The entire cast of 11 actors deserves kudos for portraying multiple roles and successfully altering their voices for each character to make them distinct. Overall, though, the men and women on stage lack a sense of conversational rhythm. While each performer clearly interprets each line they're speaking, few seem to do so realizing that their words are in response to other characters. There isn't a sense of relationship between them; it's as if, instead of listening to each other in order to understand how to reply, they're listening to each other simply to know when to deliver their next line.
Still, I can't help but applaud what really is a sweet piece. It's not sweet in tone, mind you, as this is still the story of a deadly alien invasion. However, it's the involvement of actors with seemingly no ego, just an apparent desire to perform (some of them for the very first time), that makes the show such a delight. The War of the Worlds may be imperfectly presented by an unseasoned cast, but I think it's somewhat more enjoyable for that.
Performances take place in Scott Community College's Student Life Center, located through Door 5, off Parking Lot D. For information, call (563)441-4339.