All About The Stage Review: STORIES FROM THE ZONE is “excellent from start to finish”
Writing is a demanding profession and a selfish one. And because it is selfish and demanding, because it is compulsive and exacting, I didn’t embrace it. I succumbed to it.
I’ve been a Twilight Zone fan since I was a kid. I should have been scared off, but, even at a young age, I knew the stories were well crafted and impossible to ignore. The scariest story was “Living Doll” in 1963 where a pre-Kojack Telly Savalas gets bullied by a doll. I never looked at mine the same after that creepy episode.
Creator/writer Rodman Edward Serling gave a lot of genres to devour. From fantasy (The Fugitive, 1962), science fiction (Number 12 Looks Just Like You and many others), and the once-in-a-long-while comedy (Cavender is Coming with Carol Burnett in 1962). Serling (December 25, 1924 – June 28, 1975) was a true visionary. His insight into how the world will become is truly artistry at its best. Robots who think for themselves. Cell phones and cars that fly off the road, he knew what was coming while the rest of us lagged behind trying to keep up. Out of 156 episodes, the creative genius wrote 92. He was grinding for 5 years when the show was on air. It must have been difficult to choose which story to execute. The following choices: Mr. Garrity and the Graves (1962) and Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up? (1961) were both good choices. The first is a Western and the latter takes place at a nondescript diner filled with people traveling on a 14-year old bus stopping in for food and warmth from the harsh winter.
Mr. Garrity and the Graves is the story of how con-artist Jared Garrity (played with such finesse by Richard Large “All My Sons” and “The Subject of Roses”) bamboozles the people in Happiness, Arizona on a nice day in 1890. He comes into a bar, asks for a drink and proceeds to chatter endlessly to John Jensen (John Wallace Combs) the grumpy bartender. Jensen asks the nomadic purveyor what he’s selling. Garrity nonchalantly says, “I bring back the dead,” and downs his whiskey. Hold it! Dramatic pause! And continue. After the shock wears off, customers walk in not knowing what transpired. Jensen tells Sheriff Gilchrist (a wonderful performance by Philip Sokoloff) what Garrity does for a living. The rest of the town hears about it and are instantly leery of the man. In order to prove his craft, Garrity brings back to life a dog that was run over. With a wave of his hand, some inaudible words, the dog returns healthy and ready to run and play.
Garrity offers the town the choice of bringing back their loved ones located at Boot Hill Cemetery. At first, everyone loves the idea. Then, reality sets in. Does Mr. Gooberman (Yancey Dunham) really want his portly wife of 247 pounds Zelda (John Wallace Combs) to return? She did break his arm. Sheriff Gilchrist isn’t in love with the idea of bank robber and murderer Lighting Peterson (Mark Bate) returning to finish the sheriff off. Even Jensen doesn’t like the idea of his alcoholic and abusive partner (Roger K. Weiss) claiming the bar as his own alcohol induced playground. After giving Garrity, collectively, over $3500 to keep their “loved ones” in the cemetery, Garrity whips up another mumbling spell and poof! the dead are back where they belong. The town can breathe a major sigh of relief. That is, until, Mr. Serling (under the guise of the charming Jeff G. Rack) gives his signature Twilight Zone twist at the end.
The second act is as powerful as the first. However, consider “Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?” to be a cautionary tale when you stop by an empty diner after starving for hours in bad winter. Martian, also written by Serling, starts off innocent enough. Two state troopers, Trooper Bill Padgett and Trooper Dan Perry (Yancey Dunham and Brian David Pope) respectively, get a call that a UFO has been sighted. They go to investigate and it leads them to the Hi-Way Café with passengers from a broken down bus, take a moment to eat, drink and stay warm. The troopers inform everyone that bridge ahead is closed and being examined for damages. They ask the bus driver Olmstead (Richard Large) for a manifest of the passengers. Olmstead laughs and tells the trooper “that’s a 14-year old bus, not a 707, and business is lousy.” He picked up six travelers. However, both troopers counted seven people. There’s someone extra but who is it? They tell everyone that until that bridge is safe, they have to stay overnight. Ross (Jeffrey Winner kills it as the arrogant businessman), isn’t happy with the situation. “What is this a diner or the gestapo?” he asks angrily.
Olmstead explains that he picked up two married couples, one younger Connie and George Prince (Meghan Lloyd and Mark Bate) and the other older, Rose and Peter Kramer (Toni Trenton and Harry Herman), a professional dancer Ethel McConnell (Brianna Parcel), a boisterous but hysterical man named Avery but referred to as Grandpa (Phillip Sokoloff) and Ross (Jeffrey Winner) the pompous professional. Suddenly, things start happening that shouldn’t. The jukebox goes on and off. The lights flicker on and off. Avery marches over to the jukebox, salutes it and says, “Take me to your leader.” He’s having fun at the expense of others. There is nothing more needed than some well-timed comedy to break up the seriousness of a delicate situation. While Grandpa entertains some, the others, like Ross, want him to shut the hell up. Later, the troopers get a call that the bridge is now safe. After paying their own bills, everyone makes a line and returns to the bus.
A few hours later, Ross returns. Haley (John W. Combs is having way too much fun) the short order cook asks what happened. Ross said that the bridge wasn’t safe after all. The bus dove over and everyone fell in. Haley looks at Ross and notices that the business man isn’t wet. “What’s wet?” Ross asks while lighting a cigarette. Another Serling twist ends the story. Jeff G. Rack, who plays Serling, does an excellent job in both narrating and adapting the classic stories for the next era of Twilight Zone fans. He stayed very close to the original stories, both written by Serling, while adding his own personal touch. He and director Charlie Mount do an excellent job in executing Mr. Serling’s vision for the present time. The show was excellent from start to finish. Ms. Gabriael Griego does a phenomenal job with the video design. She captured the opening of the Twilight Zone show with the crash from a window, to the huge eyeball and Einstein’s theory of relativity and the equation E=MC2 representing the mind. Serling would be proud and die-hard fans (myself included) will enjoy it immensely.
Mary E. Montoro for All About The Stage