Jonah C. Priour ’09 (back), Jon E. Gentry ’07, and Carolyn A. McCandish ’07 deliver strong performances in “To the Chicago Abyss,” the second half of “Bradbury and Beyond.” “Bradbury” ran this past weekend in the Loeb Ex.
Visions of a bleak future tend to fall into one of two categories: the
sleek, soulless, machine-driven version, or the post-apocalyptic,
totalitarian version. Both styles of dystopia got an airing in
“Bradbury and Beyond,” which ran at the Loeb Experimental Theatre from
Nov. 30 to Dec. 2. The performance, which was produced by Sarah E.
Stein ’08 and directed by Marielle E. Woods ’08, adapted two short
stories by Ray Bradbury: “The Veldt” and “To the Chicago Abyss.”
The director’s note indicated that the goal of putting these
two stories together was to illuminate the impact of technology on
society—or, as the creatively adapted “turn-off-your-cell-phones”
warning succinctly stated, “Technology’s a bitch.” However, the
stories—and their juxtaposition—work most interestingly as an
examination of fantasy and reality. “The Veldt,” in which a
virtual-reality playroom takes over the lives of a family, and “To the
Chicago Abyss,” about a man who remembers the past before an unstated
cataclysm when doing so is a crime against the state, showed two sides
of the imagination and its power.
“The Veldt” centers on the newest gee-whiz gadget that an
overworked father of the “Father Knows Best” ilk (Jonah C. Priour ’09)
gets for his parentally-neglected kids (Carolyn A. McCandlish ’07 and
Zachary B. S. Sniderman ’09): a playroom which perfectly reproduces any
place one could wish to go. It comes to represent the children’s
resentment toward their parents, eventually allowing their emotions to
take murderous form, despite the worries of their mother (Victoria J.
Crutchfield ’10) and the intervention of a psychiatrist (Mark D.
Hoadley ’07), who examines the room more than the children.
Much of the story of “The Veldt” takes place inside the
playroom, with invisible landscapes and, often, only partially-visible
actors. It is to the credit of the production that this state of
affairs was, for the most part, not a problem. The room itself,
designed by Todd Weekly, was constructed of translucent paper panes
that allow shadows to be seen within, and was lit brilliantly by Ellie
M. M. Campisano ’08 to reflect its imaginary scenes.
The rest was up to the actors, who gracefully pulled off the
sometimes awkwardly-written descriptions of what they saw—Bradbury,
whose own theatrical adaptations are used here, could have given more
consideration to how his similes sound in actual speech. In particular,
Priour’s shortsighted enthusiasm contrasted nicely with Sniderman’s
adolescent bitterness, and both Sniderman and McCandlish were
wonderfully ghoulish in the final scene.
“To the Chicago Abyss” also featured an extensive and
dangerous imagination, but here the danger was to the shadowy
totalitarian state that rules a shattered future America. A few short,
straightforward scenes feature an old man (Jon E. Gentry ’07, who is
remarkable) talking about his memories: types of fruit, cigarette
brands, and so on, to anyone whose path he crosses. Doing so makes him
an accidental revolutionary, because to recall the past is to be
dissatisfied with the present, at least in this world.
“To the Chicago Abyss” was much more powerful than “The
Veldt,” in large part because its rambling imaginary scenes were the
point, rather than a distraction in the service of a storyline. The
latter play successfully evoked a regretful, fraught atmosphere, rather
than simply making a point, as “The Veldt” did. Even though the
characters are miserable, feel sympathy for them, while sympathy is in
short supply in “The Veldt.” “To the Chicago Abyss” was more of a
meditation than a story, and Woods wisely reflects that by stylizing
the action to a large degree.
“Bradbury and Beyond” presented a world in which privation
left nothing but imagination, and one in which luxury and alienation
had twisted it into something vicious. Pick your poison—both were
—Crimson staff reviewer Elisabeth J. Bloomberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org