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Zone Defense: Twilight Zone Redux and Subersive Twilight Zone

An ongoing squawk amongst culture vultures pits “low brow entertainment” against so-called “fine arts”. For example, a cartoon or comic book couldn’t pull the same intellectual weight as masterpiece painting. Or pulp fiction the social impact beyond the paperback racks where they are sold. Certainly, a 30 minute episode of a T.V. series could never compare to a stage drama.
 
The age of electronics, which brought a world of popular entertainment into American homes, only served to up the wattage on this argument. The young cathode muse was condemned by critics almost at birth. But even the man who coined the phrase “vast wasteland” almost fifty years ago found one television production to be an exception and the show was… The Twilight Zone.
 
With quick, punchy strokes Serling, as well as the authors and directors he engaged, provided audiences with video parables that were either existential or topical or, at the very, very best, sometimes both. Shows drew their inspiration from the concerns of the day including dictatorship, conformity and capital punishment. It is impossible to dismiss The Twilight Zone either for its content or its legacy.
 
TZ has spawned both hommage and spoof. “Twilight zone” has entered daily vocabulary to refer to a bewildered person mind has gone. Chanting the show’s doo-doo doo-doo, doo-doo doo-doo theme song signals to friends that something weird is happening.
 
By artistic serendipity, two theater companies have picked up the Serling gauntlet, staging a batch of TZ stories in live format. That these production’s schedules overlap adds to the uncommon synchronicity. Doo-doo doo-doo, doo-doo doo-doo.
 
The different companies pay attention to two distinct strains in a few of the best known TZ scripts. American Repertory Theatre gives us Twilight Zone (Redux) three famous episodes which dramatize central characters grappling with circumstances that pit free will against cosmic odds.
 
Subversive Theatre has selected programs from the TZ canon that depict the social themes, such as the tug of war of between individual and society. The seven episodes are presented on two separate line-ups (three on UHF night and four on VHF night). Subversive Twilight Zones offers a discount at the box office for audiences returning to see both bills on separate evenings. There are two dates on which all seven episodes will be performed in a four hour marathon performance; Saturday, October 30, and Sunday, November 14. Details are on this company’s website.
 
Both companies give us an ersatz Rod Serling introduce the proceedings; Darryl Hart at ART and Dennis Keefe at Subversive. It is a pleasure to hear Keefe’s mellifluous voice repeating Serling’s narrations. Hart nicely imitates Serling’s casual intensity and precise, emphatic articulation.
 
Coincidentally, both productions use vintage video advertising to set the tone for the series original time and place. The repetition of certain images begs a question of life in the mid-20th century. Most of the products advertised seem to fall into two categories. There are ads for cleaning products, personal and household…. soap, shampoo, detergent, bleach. There are about the same amount of ads for cigarettes and beer. It seems the viewing audience was in its own twilight zone torn between their vices and cleaning them up.
 
Both theaters offer productions that are admirably stylish in their respective ways. Subversive Twilight Zones has been designed with a regimented black / white / grey palette. The lighting is moody and stark. This complements the effort to make the STZ evening
 
There is less attention to production elements at ART’s Twilight Zone (Redux). The most interesting work in this production is Drew McCabe’s adaptation the TZ material. In an author’s  statement in the playbill states McCabe describes adapting the short stories that were the source for the TZ scripts rather than attempting to stage the TZ scripts themselves. McCabe attempts to braid elements of the three stories together (perhaps a nod to the 1983 feature film Twilight Zone). His efforts are worthwhile and they could have been taken further to good effect.
 
TZ(R) is co-directed by McCabe and Kristen Bentley, who worked so well together last season staging (Not) at New Alt Theatre, making its multiple narratives a cohesive story. TZ(R) lacks that control of staging which results in the individual scenes drifting along to closure rather than to a decisive finish. Certainly, one trademark of TZ narrative is impactful endings often with a message.
 
Message is what Subversive Twilight Zones is all about, which is its strongest feature and its hitch. Subversive Theatre’s intention has been to back the Formica veneer of late 1950s conformity to look explore murkier matters, particularly the human tendency to force domination upon others. Urgent suspense buoyed viewer interest for the twenty-one minute of the televised TZ episodes. In an opening week visit to see one half of the STZ bill, the focus was so much on the each upcoming moral, that each story’s end was too evident even as a scene is began.
 
This Subversive Theatre project boasts a team of six directors and about thirty to recreate seven different TZ episodes. This is ambitious by any standard. I’d wager the circumstantial weaknesses seen during an early viewing will be resolved as the run of the show continues. Certainly the full bill is worth seeing.
 
Who might like Twilight Zone (Redux) and Subversive Twilight Zones? TZ purists would probably prefer Subversive Theatre’s offerings.
 
Subversive Twilight Zones (through November 14); starring Dennis Keefe and many others. Presented by Subversive Theatre Company at Manny Fried Playhouse; 255 Great Arrow Avenue, third floor (elevator and stairway access; subversivetheatre.org or (716) 408-0499.
 
Twilight Zone Redux (recently closed); starring Jacob Albarella, Lauren Cichon, Jeffery Coyle, Lisa Dee, Darryl Hart, Lindsay Salamone and Bryan Patrick Stoyle, Adapted by Drew McCabe, staged by McCabe and Kristen Bentley for American Repertory Theatre Of Western New York; presented at Buffalo East, 1410 Main Street. (716) 884-4858.
 
Did you seen Twilight Zone (Redux)? Tell Buffalo Rising readers what you think.
 
___  A must see for all.
 
___  I liked it and you might, too.
 
___  Well, I liked it.
 
___  Not for me
 

Did you see Subversive Twilight Zones? Tell Buffalo Rising readers what you think:
 
___  A must see for all.
 
___  I liked it and you might, too.
 
___  Well, I liked it.
 
___  Not for me
 
Showdown:  A duel between two cowgirls (Lauren Cichon, L.,  and Lisa Dee) takes a fateful turn because of the involvement of Dr. Fate (Brian Patrick Stoyle, C.).

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