The Wisdom That Comes With Age

This afternoon our theatre weekend continued with “Ray Bradbury’s Wisdom 2116” at the Fremont Centre Theatre in South Pasadena. This is a hard piece to describe. The advertising calls it a musical, but it is much more than that: it is a drama, it is a dance piece, it is a puppet show, it is performance arts, it is magical. But then again, would you expect something easy to describe when Ray Bradbury was involved? I’ll note we first heard about this show from Bradbury himself in an interview on the Cyberfrequencies Podcast.

“Wisdom 2116”, formerly called “Merry Christmas 2116”, is a short story written by Ray Bradbury over 50 years ago, based on the marriage of Charles Laughton and Elsa Lanchester. It tells the story of an elderly couple who realize they are dying, and decide to give their other half an robot of themselves when they were young, 40 years earlier, as a Christmas present. When the present arrives, the receipient is not happy, and comes to the realization that growing old together is the best gift.

As you can see, this is a short story — and this is a short piece: about 50 minutes, no intermission. It opens in an empty stage where a number of dancers glad in diaphanous costumes all come out of a box, and enact the story of how the couple met. We then meet the couple, and they sing of their love for each other and their dismay at their eventual passing. I should note that all these characters are in very stylized costumes with heavy whiteface makeup. Mr. Marionette then enters and informs the couple of his ability to make lifesize robots. Each quietly contracts for their younger robot selves, to be delivered on Christmas Eve. We then see a shadow dance of the manufacture of the robots, followed by their introduction. The gifts are delivered, and prove to be too much for the elderly couple. They return them to Mr. Marionette, and ask for them to be deactivated. The couple then leaves, happy. The story is ended, and the dancers return, come out and clean up the stage, and then all the characters, including the couple and Mr. Marionette, exit through the trunk on the stage.

The piece was extremely well acted and sung. The lead characters were Steve Josephson (Mr. Marionette), Michael Prichard (Mr. Wycherly), Lisa Morrice (Mrs. Wycherly), and Jessie McLean (Bride-Bot/Pink Dancer) and Andrew Ruesch (Groom Bot/Blue Dancer). Rounding out the ensemble were Christine Reese (Yellow Dancer), Monica Thibodeaux (Purple Dancer), and Sarah Mann (Green Dancer/Hip-Hop Bot). This was just a beautiful group: strong dancing, expressive movement and faces, clear singing. Just a touching performance.

Turning to the technical side, the fantastic set was designed by J. W. Layne. Remarkable lighting was by Stuart A. Fabel. Costume design was by Sarah Schuessler, with makeup by Darlene Krantz and wigs by Gregg Barnette. The marionettes were by the Czech Marionettes.

The theatre adaption of this story featured book and lyrics by Ray Bradbury, with music by John Hoke. Additional material was by Steve Josephson, who also developed, directed, and choreographed the piece. Musical direction was by John Hoke. The piece was produced by Ray Bradbury and Racquel Lehrman of Theatre Planners.

“Ray Bradbury’s Wisdom 2116” continues at the Fremont Center Theatre until February 27, 2010.

Upcoming Theatre. After “Wisdom 2116”, we went to Hollywood for the February installment of “Meeting of Minds (Episode 23 with Penny Peyser as Catherine the Great, Ian Buchanan as Oliver Cromwell, and James Handy as Daniel O’Connell) at the Steve Allen Theatre in Hollywood (that review will be written tomorrow). The last week of February is open, and may remain that way as we’re seeing our congregation’s Purim Schpeil on Sunday evening. March starts with The Story of My Life” at the Havok Theatre on March 6 @ 8pm (where we’ll be joined by shutterbug93). March 13 brings “Celebrate Dance 2010” at the Alex Theatre in Glendale; followed the next day by “On Golden Pond” at REP East. March 21 will be another installment of “Meeting of Minds” — this will be the second episode with Karl Marx (Ed Asner), Sir Thomas More (Bruce Davison), Queen Marie Antoinette (Meeghan Holaway), and President US Grant (Dan Lauria). April brings more of potential interest, most currently pending ticketing, including Jacques Brel is Alive and Living in Paris” at the Colony Theatre (likely April 10 or April 16), “Damn Yankees” at Van Nuys HS (April 15-17), the April installment of “Meeting of Minds” at the Steve Allen Theatre on April 18, “12 Angry Men” at REP East (likely April 24), and the So Cal Ren Faire (either April 25 or May 16). May looks to be equally busy, with “Little Shop of Horrors at Cabrillo Music Theatre (May 1), See What I Wanna See” at the Blank (likely May 9), The 39 Steps” at the Ahmanson (likely May 15), the May installment of “Meeting of Minds” at the Steve Allen Theatre (May 16), the Spring Dance Show at Van Nuys HS (May 20-22), and “The Wedding Singer” at Repertory East Playhouse in Newhall (likely May 30).

As always: live theatre is a gift and a unique experience, unlike a movie. It is vitally important in these times that you support your local arts institutions. If you can afford to go to the movies, you can afford to go to theatre. If you need help finding ways, just drop me a note and I’ll teach you some tricks. Lastly, I’ll note that nobody paid me anything to write this review. In fact, I receive no remuneration for any reviews I write.

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