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Wednesday, April 7,2010

'Mars' attacks the funnybone

Frantic comedy finds hilarity in hysteria

by Mary C. Cusack

The plot of Williamston Theatre’s latest offering, “It Came From Mars,” takes a standard screwball comedy plot and elevates it slightly into the realm of a meta-comedy.  It came from the mind of Joseph Zettelmaier, who co-authored a prior successful production at Williamston, “Flyover USA."


The story takes place on Oct. 30, 1938.  As the cast of a radio drama show gathers to rehearse for its next big production, personality conflicts erupt between cast and crew.  Just as the production is about to fall apart, news comes from a rival radio station that Martians have invaded nearby Grover’s Mill, N.J.


Sound familar?  It is not a spoiler to say that the radio cast have fallen victim to Orson Welles’ “War of the Worlds” hoax, which is the bit that gives the play its meta angle — that is, it never occurs to the radio drama cast that they are listening to a radio drama.


Tension builds among the characters as they argue over survival techniques, turn on each other, try to heal old wounds, and/or spend their last few hours on Earth enjoying earthly delights.  


The characters are fairly stock.  Quentin Farlowe (Wayne David Paker) is the authoritarian director/writer with a Napoleon complex, who neglects to recognize the brilliance of his put-upon receptionist, Maude Myrtles (Morgan Chard).


When his star actress quits, Farlowe is forced to beg his diva ex-wife to come take her place.  Julia Crane (Sandra Birch) is an ice queen who hides her pain behind a bitchy fašade.


Farlowe’s cast also includes Dolores Breckinridge (Alysia Kolascz), a ditzy debutante with a big secret.  While she flits and flirts, mousy German immigrant and station soundman Werner Kreilig (Jacob Hodgson) pines for Dolores and takes verbal abuse from blustery actor George Loomis (Joseph Albright).  


The cast maneuvers the characters past the trappings of their stereotypes.   And while the story arc, climax and the denouement pretty much follow an expected trajectory, the unabashed — often crass — dialogue and its delivery by the skilled cast keeps the material fresh.  The actors obviously relish their roles and deliver the best punchlines with much punch.  


Albright gets the most fun as the equal-opportunity offender Loomis.  While many of his jabs at Werner and Maude are prochronistic, it is easy to overlook the script’s sloppiness because Albright delivers his lines with mucho gusto.


“Mars” may not be the edgiest play the Lansing area sees this season, but it is one of the most fun.  “It” came, I saw, it made me laugh.


'It Came From Mars'
Williamston Theatre
122 S. Putnam St.
8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, April 8-18
3 p.m. April 10 and 17; 2 p.m. April 11 and 18
$18 Thursdays, $24 evenings Fridays and Saturdays, $20 matinees
$10 for students with ID; $2 off ticket price for seniors
(517) 655-7469

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