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Danielle Nigro, left, Laura Potel and Rob Tendy are among the performers featured in the Theatre Department's production of "Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone.”
Photo by Jonathan Cohen
Theatre enters ‘The Twilight Zone’
March 5, 2014Tweet
“The Monsters are Due on Maple Street” and “Dust” aired on TV more than 50 years ago, but Doug Macur thinks the issues addressed in these “Twilight Zone” episodes still resonate in 2014 and will resonate another 50 years from now.
“The issues that “The Twilight Zone” covers, in particular in these two episodes, are the kind of issues that will be ever-pervasive,” said Macur, a Binghamton University alumnus and projection designer for the Theatre Department’s production of “Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone.” “They’re never going to go away.”
Audiences will get a chance to see just how relevant these stories are at 8 p.m. March 7-8, and March 14-15, and at 2 p.m. March 16, at the Watters Theater in the Fine Arts Building. Tickets are: general admission, $14; faculty/staff/seniors, $12; and students (with ID), $8.
Director Elizabeth Mozer has adapted the original scripts for “Monsters” and “Dust” into a two-act play, both of which deal with community—the disintegration of an idyllic 1950s suburb in “Monsters” and the redemption of a turn-of-the-century dustbowl town in “Dust.” Like Macur, Mozer sees the stories of “The Twilight Zone” as morality plays that reflect real-world issues.
“I love ‘The Twilight Zone,’” Mozer said. “There are these imaginative parables that speak to societal issues, framed within fictional worlds that resemble our worlds, but one step removed so we can see ourselves without being oppressed by it because of the imaginative circumstances Serling places people in.”
When Mozer moved to Binghamton a few years ago, she was astonished to learn that Serling had grown up in the area. Once she realized the connection and saw the pride the area has in its famous son, she sought to honor Serling’s work by dramatizing two of his 92 original scripts. She found assistance in Lawrence Kassan, founder and director of the Rod Serling Video Festival, who helped her get in touch with Serling’s daughter, Anne. After discussing her ideas, Serling gave Mozer her stamp of approval, and the show was a go. Serling will be in the Watters Theater Lobby at 1:30 p.m. March 16, prior to the performance, for a signing of her book, “As I Knew Him: My Dad, Rod Serling,” which will also be available for purchase that day. Following the 2 p.m. performance, the director and company will be joined by Serling and Kassan for a talk-back with the audience.
“I re-discovered Serling after moving here,” Mozer said. “That’s one of the reasons why I was so excited about the project. I have other ideas about translating films to stage, but because Rod Serling lived in Binghamton, that had a big impact on the choice. It got a lot of people excited about the project.”
One of those excited people was Tyler Downey, who plays Charlie in “Monsters” and Mr. Canfield in “Dust.” After seeing a casting call for “The Twilight Zone” last fall, he knew he had to audition.
“When I found out it was going to be produced, I freaked out,” Downey said. “I needed to be somewhere around this, because this was something that was so big in my childhood.”
Along with Downey, 19 others made the cut, including four children from the local community. The audition process was challenging due to the scope of the production, Mozer said.
“It was probably the most difficult casting process I’ve done here because I was doing two very different plays, in two different time periods,” she said. “I had to find actors I could cast in both. I had to figure out how to do it in a way that served the work, served the actors and served the conceptual vision.”
Minus a few gender swaps and the much-needed removal of a live horse, the scripts are almost exactly as Serling wrote them. Mozer noted, however, that this production will not be a mere replication of the TV show.
“We’re really reimaging them for the stage,” she said. “We’re not trying to take the show and put it on the stage. The reimaging is fun because a lot of people are going to come in with their ideas about what the show will be.”
Along with the scripts, much of “The Twilight Zone’s” charm came from its talented actors – Robert Redford, Carol Burnett and William Shatner are just a few of the many famous performers to appear on the show—and that’s no different with this stage production. Mozer is confident in her cast.
“It’s challenging for them, because they’re not of the age of the characters, but I think they’re doing a great job,” Mozer said.
Downey credits the cast’s chemistry to a healthy dose of onstage and offstage camaraderie.
“It’s an ensemble performance, so we’ve kind of created this entity as a bunch of actors,” he said. “Instead of just having a scene partner, we have this community.
Both plays draw on a huge sense of community. We’ve now built that offstage and onstage, and these relationships are the food for our performance.”
Erik Young, who plays Don Martin in “Monsters” and Man One in “Dust,’’ found an unconventional, yet inspiring director in Mozer.
“She’s the best director I’ve had for collaboration and ensemble work,” he said. “A lot of the stuff she does is very innovative and unusual for traditional theater.”
Kassan, who gave a presentation on the roots, life journey and continuing legacy of Serling to the cast and members of the public on Feb. 18, thinks Serling’s scripts are perfect for the live stage, and believes Mozer has what it takes to make them work.
“I think his work was extremely theatrical because he understood how to move people through drama,” Kassan said. “His teleplays are like theatrical events, and I have complete confidence in Elizabeth that she will take his words and really make it a memorable piece of theater.”
Macur appreciates Mozer’s ability to take suggestions from cast and crew, even when they came at the last minute.
“Not every director is open as Elizabeth is,” he said. “She’s very open to seeing new things. As a designer, that’s something you hope for in every show, especially for a show that can be as potentially as abstract as ‘The Twilight Zone.’ It’s ‘The Twilight Zone’ and anything can happen, so having a director who’s open to that is a blessing.”
In charge of six projectors and two beefy computers to run them on, Macur will bring what he refers to as “movement” to the production, something he deems necessary to make up for a lack of camera work.
“Movement becomes a very big part of the show,” he said. “I think that the movement in the piece goes very far in the way of making up for it not being broadcast on TV. You have to instill that movement back into the piece somehow. And I think the movement Elizabeth has put in the piece does that.”
Macur won’t reveal just what all of those projectors are for – you’ve got to see the show for yourself.
“Some of it will be very subtle,” he said. “Some of it is not that subtle. There’s some magic, we’ll put it that way.”
With the production taking place in the unofficial “Twilight Zone” capital of the world, the cast and crew expect plenty of people to come out and experience that magic.
“The name ‘The Twilight Zone’ alone has a certain draw,” Macur said. “But ‘The Twilight Zone’ in Binghamton—that’s a huge draw.”