Paul Myrvold reviews Stories from the Zone

After going cold turkey and cutting ourselves off from the habit of cable TV or satellite dish, my other brain and I started to explore all the other possibilities available with an antenna and a few subscriptions like Hulu, Netflix, Amazon Prime (which we already pay for), and access to our kids’ HBO account. O, brave new world! Free at last! We marched through several iterations of Star Trek, reveled in Doc Martin and Mrs. Maisel, and got giddy with the joy of the Great British Bake Off. And we aimed for the goal of watching every episode of The Twilight Zone, of which there are a hundred and fifty-six. We are about a fourth of the way through.

So it was with considerable anticipation that we trekked over to Theatre Forty in Beverly Hills to take in Jeff G. Rack’s Rod Serling’s Stories from the Zone, an adaptation of two episodes from the Rod Serling catalog: “Mr. Garrity and the Graves,” directed by Charlie Mount, and “Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up,” directed by Mr. Rack.

In “Mr. Garrity and the Graves,” a con artist (Richard Large) ambles into a dusty Arizona saloon circa 1890. The town is recently renamed Happy after a tough sheriff (Philip Sokoloff) cleaned house and put a lot of miscreants to rest in Boot Hill. Garrity claims to be able to raise the dead and dazzles the townspeople with a slick trick that convinces the rubes that he can bring all those people buried up in the cemetery back to life, a not so welcome situation. The story is based on a real event—“an 1873 incident in Alta, Utah, in which a stranger arrived in the mining town and offered to raise the dead. They collected $2,500 to persuade the stranger to leave town without following through on his offer (Wikipedia).” The play is mordantly funny and of course has a kicker at the end.

“Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up” is an Agatha Christy-esque conundrum. A pair of state troopers (Yancey Dunham and David Brian Pope) responding to a UFO sighting follows tracks to a diner, where six bus passengers and their driver are taking refuge from a winter storm. The problem is there are seven people who claim to be bus passengers. So who is the alien? Can’t be the owner (John Wallace Combs). Who are the others? The two couples, (Mark Bale and Meghan Lloyd; Harry Herman and Toni Trenton)? That seems unlikely. The blond bombshell (Brianna Parcel) in a mink coat? Maybe. The bus driver (Richard Large)? Nah! That leaves crusty old jokester Avery (Philip Sokoloff) and the acerbic Ross (Jeffrey Winner). Of course, Rod Serling keeps one guessing and finishes with a punch.

The two acts are handsomely mounted by scenic designer/director Jeff Rack. The old-timey western saloon is evocative. The audience clears out of the auditorium at intermission so the entirely different diner set can be installed for the second act, which calls to mind Bus Stop and even has Brianna Parcel front and center to evoke a tingle of Marilyn Monroe.

Rounding out the creative staff are costume designer Shon LeBlanc; sound designer Joseph “Sloe” Slawinski; and lighting designer Brandon Baruch. And Amanda Sauter manages the stage.

Rod Serling’s Stories from the Zone is written By Rod Serling, adapted by Jeff G. Rack, and directed By Jeff G. Rack and Charlie Mount. The show, produced by David Hunt Stafford for Theatre 40 in association with Arcane Theatreworks, runs in rotating rep with It is Done.