by Lynn on April 1, 2011

in The Passionate Playgoer

Don McKellar

Andrew Burashko is a cultural treasure in this city. Besides being an accomplished musician he is the gifted driving force behind the Art of Time Ensemble. Over the years the company has presented programs that bridge not only classical and contemporary music, bit also the worlds of dance, film, theatre and now radio.

In their latest production the purpose is two-fold. 1) to honour and celebrate the music of Bernard Herrmann, Academy Award winning film composer during what is the centenary of his birth; and 2) to recreate The War of the Worlds, the notorious October 30, 1938 radio drama adaptation of H.G. Wells’ 1898 novel of the same name.

Bernard Herrmann composed film scores for most of Alfred Hitchcock’s films (Psycho, Vertigo, North by Northwest) and music for Orson Welles’ films: Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons among others.

To commemorate Herrmann’s centenary, Don Parr has composed a suite entitled Herrmannthology based on 20 of Herrmann’s film scores. Andrew Burashko conducts the orchestra, while Tess Girard’s terrific live mix of stills and footage from the various films, is projected on a screen as the orchestra plays. Wonderful, dramatic, stirring music. And Burashko brings it to vibrant life.

The second half of the evening is given over to a recreation of the CBS broadcast of The War of the Worlds, adapted by Orson Welles from the novel by H.G. Wells, and performed by Welles’ Mercury Theatre Company. It was broadcast October 30, 1938, the day before Halloween. It was Welles and company’s little trick and treat all in one go. He wanted to show how gullible people were to believe everything they heard on the radio. In that broadcast news reports kept interrupting the regular program of orchestral music, announcing that Martians had landed and were killing people in New Jersey and New York. With every interruption the tone got more and more urgent and the listeners panicked and believed they were under siege. Even the occasional announcement that it was a dramatization didn’t allay the listeners’ fears. Radio drama at it’s best to be sure.

As Burashko announced, the element of surprise is not evident in this Art of Time production. But we still see how it must have been done then. Beth Kates has designed the set, the costumes and lighting. The CBS recording studio is recreated right down to the ever present working clock ticking off the hour. The ‘actors’ are in suits and ties as is the orchestra conductor. They all smoke. The sound effects are created by the foley artist and musician John Gzowski.

The actors here are superb: Don McKellar plays Welles and various other characters; Nicholas Campbell plays various military personnel, scientific experts and eye-witnesses; and Marc Bendavid plays an announcer at the scene of where the Martian’s landed, and other panicking civilians.

It’s fascinating seeing the whole ‘play’ play out. We don’t have the element of surprise that the listener had in October 30, 1938, but for all the artificial effects we are seeing created, it’s hard not too imagine why the listener believed the Martians were coming. Or why the listeners panicked.

It was a different time then. They didn’t have the instant world of television. They only had radio as their means of getting the news ‘instantly’, as well as their drama and entertainment. They heard every major news event announced on the radio. Of course they would believe they were being invaded from outer space if they heard it announced on the radio.

And times haven’t really changed. Don’t we panic with every e-mail announcing the newest virus, urging us to pass on the e-mail to everybody we know because it must be true as somebody heard it from some reliable source. And it’s always a hoax. And we still fall for it.

Times change and stay the same. And the Art of Time Ensemble shows that beautifully.
This is an evening rich in music, drama, suspending disbelief and art. Bravo to Andrew Burashko and company.

The War of the Worlds plays at the Enwave Theatre, at Harbourfront until April 3, 2011

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Lynn Slotkin April 19, 2011 at 8:51 pm

Thanks for this. Your is a good website too.


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