Monday, August 18, 2008

Fringe: There Will Come Soft Rains

Photo/Marielle Solan

Whether you're familiar with the three science-fiction stories that Jon Levin has adapted for There Will Come Soft Rains or not, these creative, image-intensive works successfully make the leap from the page to the stage. In the first, Stanislaw Lem's "How the World Was Saved," Clare McNulty, operating a small bunraku puppet named Trurl, appears in the midst of a field of everyday objects planted like flowers, each glistening (like Trurl) with a single lightbulb on an otherwise unlit stage. The story beings whimsically: as Trurl tests the alliterative limitations of his new invention (a machine which can only create things that begin with the letter "N"), a chorus of robotic actors toss objects from noodles to negligees on stage and inform him that they cannot produce natrium, as that is just the Latin word for sodium. Things take a darker turn (though still couched in comic, Seuss-like language), when Trurl's jealous rival, Klapaucius (Mary Notari) challenges the machine to do Nothing.

Things only get better from there: Jesse Garrison single-handedly brings Bill Pronzini and Barry N. Malzberg's "On the Nature of Time" to life, aided by a nifty pseudo-hologram self (that would not be out of place at 3LD) that helps him to portray his paradoxical selves as he shifts between playing the father and son in a suicide/revenge by time travel plot gone horribly wrong. And then there's Ray Bradbury's seminal "There Will Come Soft Rains," in which an automated house, puttering on long past the apocalypse, is portrayed by three actresses (Lisa Maley, Kendall Rileigh, and McNulty) who use simple, symbolic actions that are quite appropriate for a story that is itself symbolic.

The performances are perfunctory, showcasing the stories rather than the actors, but Levin's direction is sublime, really capturing the powerful, lingering images of each tale, from the sight of actors slowly turning out all the lights in the universe to that of photographic flashes revealing the atomized remains of a family, emblazoned in white on an otherwise ash-covered wall. Though the stories warn us of how unfortunately easy it is to destroy what is so hard to create, this adaptation, far from robotic, thankfully preserves and enhances instead. On a scale from 1 to 5, with 1 being "I'd rather be probed" and 5 being "Out of this world," There Will Come Soft Rains gets a 4.

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