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Thursday, 15 May 2014 20:39

Action, innuendo and laughs abound in 'The One-Hour Twilight Zone: Live'

Written by Tina Farmer
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Magic Smoking Monkey Theatre, the wild child of St. Louis Shakespeare, turns to the golden age of network television in its latest production, an action-packed, played for laughs "The One-Hour Twilight Zone: Live" now showing through May 17, 2014 at the Regional Arts Commission.

Action, innuendo and laughs abound in 'The One-Hour Twilight Zone: Live'The production, featuring two episodes of the seminal television show plus a "live action" episode of the "Superfriends!" cartoon series, is a madcap parody stuffed with the sexual innuendo, pop culture references and quick changes that have become a trademark of the company's productions. As each actor plays multiple characters throughout the show, the result is sometimes chaotic and occasionally confusing, but always enthusiastically leveraged for humor.

The two Twilight Zone episodes selected, "To Serve Man" and "Terror at 20,000 Feet," are well known and the company gives them a stylized treatment that exaggerates the tension of the original. James Enstall does a good job with the series' narrator Rod Serling, delivering a nuanced impersonation that, thankfully, doesn't try too hard and largely succeeds. Enstall successfully emphasizes the cadence and gestures in Serling's voice and mannerisms, delivering stern narration with a wink and a nod.

Enstall's is the most distinct role of the evening, though the ensemble cast does a nice job creating memorable, individual characters throughout the performance. Betsy Bowman and Suki Peters are comically adorable in various roles, male, female, super friend, and animal. Bowman steals several scenes, particularly as the randy stewardess in "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet," while Peters brings her considerable comic talents to the fore during the "Superfriends" episode.

In addition to Enstall, Bowman, and Peters, Ian Hardin, the terrified plane passenger, and Jaimyz Hawkins, the taunting Gremlin on the plane's wing, engage in a humorous back-and-forth during "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet." In the "Superfriends" episode, Maxwell Knocke was villainously devious and stoically superman to contrasting effect, while Michael Pierce stood out for his comically loud Robin which Enstall countered with a serious, deep voiced Batman.

A sparse stage, with a paint-splattered backdrop resembling the cosmos presented in the "Twilight Zone" opening montage, wisely puts the emphasis on the acting and action. Props and furniture are managed by the cast members, helping to keep the show moving along, while costuming, predominately in shades of black, white and grey, convey a feeling of watching black and white television. It's a smart choice that works well, adding an effective atmospheric touch to the show.

The slapdash costumes and props used in the "Superfriends" episode were not quite as effective, unfortunately, even allowing for the possibility that the intention with this production was to present the show from the perspective of kids playing make believe in their backyard. Applying that interpretation makes for a gentler judgment, but, all in all, I wished that the company had found a third episode of "Twilight Zone" to interpret.

Magic Smoking Monkey Theater's "The One-Hour Twilight Zone: Live" runs through May 17, 2014. For more information, visit http://www.stlshakespeare.org/magicsmokingmonkey.htm.

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