Fear of the unknown and ways to combat that fear fascinates audiences, like the “War of the Worlds” broadcast of 1938 when Orson Wells scared the hell out of his radio listeners, causing a level of mass hysteria in areas under the supposed alien attack.
“Pontypool” by Tony Burgess opened Saturday night, Jan. 16 at The Living Room, after several sold out preview performances. The comedy/drama allows Kansas City actor John Rensenhouse to command the stage from his radio/broadcast chair as the terror outside looms closer and closer while he is isolated in his broadcast studio, and he can only imagine the horror outside. Rensenhouse starts as an egotistical Grant Mazzy on a small town radio show, and as the play unfolds, finds himself as the lone voice to explain and divulge the terror outside the studio. Mazzy goes from arrogant to terrified as he understands the growing bloodbath outside the studio with the knowledge that the terror could strike anytime. Rensenhouse gives a powerhouse performance as his character changes as the terror nears.
The hour long play was developed for the stage by Kimmie Queen and Cody Wyoming. Wyoming assumed directorial duties for this roll out at The Living Room. For this production, the smaller room behind the main area seats about 60-75 in a cozy, intimate area. And, for this production the set stands out above other sets built for that area. The set resembles a radio studio with a back control room with a glass see-through wall. The set definitely stands out, but the other production aspects fit well inside the production. Lighting is good; sound and effects are important and well devised. Makeup and special effects are strong. Sound projection adds to the play. All in all the production crew created a solid frame for the play.
As for the story, strange phenomena transpire on the outside of the studio, and Mazzy’s job makes him the voice of reason and the harbinger of details about the unknown beastly devastation occurring in the small town. Unlike “War of the Worlds,” no alien life forms devastate the locals, but something that infiltrates the bodies, changes their persons, and manifests them into audio-seeking killers. When signs of the malady infiltrate one of the co-workers on the other side of his studio, the reality looms larger that life.
The hour-long play features a small cast, with Rensenhouse never leaving the stage and commanding the focus of the audience. His co-star, Katie Gilchrist, who plays Sydney Briar, remains on stage much of the time but remains a strong supporting role for Rensenhouse to spar. Her solid presence is a contrast to Rensenhouse’s changing emotional stages As the play unfolds, their relationship changes as they unite to understand and withstand the enemy outside. While the play causes thoughts of “War of the Worlds,” it also contains elements of Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death.” As he attempts to lock the beastly malady outside, only a glass wall stands between him and certain death.
To add to the drama, a mad-scientist in the form of Bradley J. Thomas appears on the scene to attempt to explain the “disease” overtaking the population. Before his entrance, the other technician, Laurel Ann Drummond, played by Regina Weller shows visible signs of the infection that leads to certain death. The only other character is the unseen vocal performance of Mitch Brian as Ken Loney, the local “sky-spy” with traffic reports who becomes the man on the street witness to the strange phenomena and gruesome deaths occurring on the outside. His calls to the station give clues to the enemy outside and the devastation that awaits.
All of the actors in the piece work together to create a spell-binding experience. Throw in a couple of campy lines to make the mood light toward the beginning prepares for the darkness that the play delivers. Give the cast a standing ovation for trapping the audience from the first lines and keeping them involved in the play’s development. “Pontypool” entertains the audience and allows for standout performances by the talented cast.
The cast is: John Rensenhouse as Grant Mazzy, Katie Gilchrist as Sydney Briar, Bradley J. Thomas as Dr. John Mendez, Regina Weller as Laurel Ann Drummond, Mitch Brian as Ken Loney, and Honey the cat who seems to unleash this terror onto the town.
The production team is: April Brewer, stage manager; Rachel Leyh, production assistant; David Kiehl, sound design; Lacey Pacheco, lighting design; Kimmie Queen, costume design; Regina Weller, properties design; Cody Wyoming, Tim Ahlenius, scenic design; Tab Treml, Regina Weller, Curtis Smith, special effects.
“Pontypool” runs through Jan. 31 with advance seating recommended due to small seating capacity. The Living Room is located at 1818 Megee Street in Kansas City, Missouri. Performance dates and times can be found on the calendar on The Living Room website. And tickets information and phone numbers can be found on the website.