Ray Bradbury. Photo courtesy Wikipedia

By Cynthia Citron

Many people believe that when you die you go to Heaven. But not Ray Bradbury. I am sure that he thought, when he died in 2012, that he would be going, at long last, to Mars.

That would be entirely fitting for this Mars “historian”, the primary storyteller about adventures on The Red Planet.

Beginning in the 1930s this prolific writer produced more than 600 novelettes and short stories in addition to more than two dozen plays, several dozen teleplays, 27 non-fiction books, a dozen children’s books, books of poetry, and literally hundreds of audio cassettes. Most of them science fiction, fantasies, gripping mysteries, and other unique and thought-provoking tales which were ever afterward included in anthologies of the best stories of the year.

Like Alfred Hitchcock, Bradbury had his own television series which featured adaptations of some of his short stories. So who among us is not familiar with The Martian Chronicles? The Illustrated Man? Fahrenheit 451? Something Wicked This Way Comes? I Sing the Body Electric? Or the chilling short story, The Veldt?

Why am I telling you all this? Because, thanks to the brilliance of writer/director/actor Charlie Mount and co-author/production designer and director Jeff G. Rack, you can now spend “An Evening With Ray Bradbury” in a new play, “Martians”, currently having its World Premiere at the Whitefire Theatre in Sherman Oaks.

Mount, as Bradbury, talks us through his life, incorporating his feelings about writing, (he considered himself a “writer of moral fables”), his sources of inspiration, and his sly admonishments to himself when stories didn’t proceed the way he wanted them to.

He is accompanied onstage by six men and one woman who act out bits and pieces from four of his short stories, “The Strawberry Window”, “The Blue Bottle”, “The Messiah”, and “Night Call, Collect”. The stories interweave and present snippets of his personal philosophy—“I am a delicatessen religionist,” he says, and his work reflects his interest in a variety of cultures.

Some of it inscrutable. For example, as the audience enters the auditorium and seats themselves, they are greeted with a veritable symphony of loud moans and other weird sounds while a woman (?) stands upstage left wearing a full-face gold mask, a long turquoise gown and a concealing black headdress. Like a robot, she gingerly moves her head and hands from side to side, and eventually she leaves the stage, never to be seen again.

In the other corner of the stage is Bradbury’s cluttered desk and his bookcase crammed with artifacts, little statues, framed pictures, posters, and assorted tchotchkes which act as spurs to his imagination and a starting point for one of his stories. A blue bottle, for instance, is the impetus for a Beckett-like story of two men searching for a mysterious magical bottle, and coming to the conclusion that “It isn’t what’s IN the bottle, it’s the SEARCH…”

Bradbury, who could write a masterpiece like “Fahrenheit 451″ in nine days, claims that if he hadn’t become a writer, he would want to be a magician, reflecting the enormous admiration he had for a carnival magician named Mr. Electrico who touched him with a “magic wand” and made his hair stand on end. And to emphasize this revelation, Bradbury pauses to perform a magic trick for the captivated audience.

In the end, this prolific writer who had filled whole libraries with his iconic works, shares what appears to have been his mantra: “To hell with MORE, I want BETTER!”

“Martians—An Evening with Ray Bradbury” can be shared every Friday night at 8 p.m. through November 2nd, with one additional performance on Saturday, November 10, at 8 p.m. The Whitefire Theatre is located at 13500 Ventura Blvd. in Sherman Oaks, and reservations can be made by calling (800) 838-3006 or at www.whitefiretheatre.org.

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