I cannot do scary stuff. I don’t mean horror movies; that’s a whole other level of scary that isn’t even on my radar. I mean like, anything dark or kind of about death. The Good Place is an exception because it’s the best show ever and you kind of forget they’re dead because they do such normal things and have such normal lives, kind of. Normal not-lives, I guess. But I hate Halloween, mostly because there are skeletons around. That’s the kind of thing I mean. I’m currently writing this from Paris and I don’t know what to do tomorrow because I think I’ve gone to every tourist attraction in the city - except the Catacombs, because no way jose! It’s Halloweeny down there. So what I’m saying is, I wouldn’t necessarily be the first person to go to a theatrical adaptation of The Twilight Zone, because scary and dark and not full of rainbows. But the operative word in there is theatrical, and so I had to. And guess what - while it wasn’t great, parts of it were very good and I enjoyed it a lot despite the skirr.
Because Anne didn’t have much to do or add, I imagine that her creative juices were stymied and she wanted to let them flow or at least put some sort of stamp on the show. And unfortunately, that led to the worst part of the show: There are too many long, unnecessary monologues that ruin the pace and honestly caused me to roll my eyes a lot, which I hate doing because i have dry eyes. These vignettes, no matter how brief, stand on their own and often resonate with the human condition; that’s why they’ve persisted in the culture. You don’t need to present the story and then have someone drone on for five minutes about how that did indeed reflect the human condition and the universe is so unknown and peculiar and wow isn’t this all interesting. Kind of ruins it.
But really that’s the only purely negative thing I can point to. This adaptation is a very decent time in the theatre, and very funny at times as well. In fact, in the beginning, I thought it was going to be a kind of tongue-in-cheek sarcastic presentation of the Twilight Zone, maybe poking fun at it, because there was so much of that kind of humour. It starts with the sketch (is TTZ a sketch show?), one of the few I remembered, where a bus stops in a diner where there are rumours of an alien being among the small crowd, and they can’t find out which one it is and they’re scared they’re all in danger. I really enjoyed this opener mostly because at one point, they all hide under the bar, and then when they got back up, I could have sworn that there was an actor among them who was not there before, like that the alien wasn’t even one of the original crowd but just now snuck his way in and I was like dammmmn they aren’t even calling attention to that that was just so subtle and brilliant! But, my husband didn’t notice any of that, so maybe i just miscounted. i like to think that the direction was that subtly detailed though so I’m gonna stick with my account. Anyway, one of the actresses, Adrianna Bertola, is very short, like shorter than my mom and Kristin Chenoweth um opposite of combined, and so she played all children characters and it was kind of hilarious! And everyone EVERYONE kept unwittingly pulling cigarettes out of their pockets or sleeves, and then once noticing, saying ‘I don’t smoke…’ So I thought it was going to be that kind of show, and I think it would have been a little better if it was indeed all hilarious mockery of the form.
But it wasn’t, and most of the rest of it was quite serious. Sure there was the very brief ballet-of-subjectivity when a society of disgusting faced monsters unwraps a surgery patient’s head to find that she is HORRIFICALLY DISFIGURED i.e. without one of those masks and just her plain human-faced self. So that was funny. But that came sandwiched in between much more troubling and dire skits (is it a skit show) like the one about a woman, played very effectively by Amy Griffiths, who meets a strange young child (again the short adult) who warns her about a strange man that she sort of remembers, only for the woman to realise a bit too late that the man is a murderer from her past and the child was her young self. SO CREEPY. And the one where a couple hears their daughter yelling for them but she isn’t in her bed, she’s been sucked into some kind of Matthew McConaughey in Interstellar time void in another dimension and it’s really sad because the dog gets into the warp zone too (but they make it out thank dog). There were so many creepy ones like that, including one that i didn’t like because it made me so uncomfortable: It featured John Marquez (related to Mimi?) as a man who was terrified of going to sleep because he was tortured in his sleep in a circus-like setting (i mean that’s torture anytime) and a tantalising woman (Lizzy Connelly) who lures him, I don’t know, further into sleep? trying to kill him? and she has scary gray and white hair and leads the ensemble in this INCREDIBLY weird masked dance (I hate masks so scary) which was straight out of that weird play Bette Midler’s character was in in Beaches, her show-within-the-show that wasn’t about Otto Titsling. So yeah, a creepy masked dance is bad enough for me but to make it a story about how sleep is a bad thing you need to avoid or else you die??? Literally the meanest story you could tell me. My husband, on the other hand, thought this was great, and especially enjoyed the weird ass dance so take that for what it’s worth.
A great creepy ass ‘episode’ featured here - and told quite effectively in a broken up manner, as many of the stories were interspersed among each other, weaving in and out - told of three military heroes who keep disappearing, not only from space but from collective memory, one by one. As one would leave, the remaining would ask a third party what happened to x, and the third party would be like x, who’s that? And the remaining would be like ‘you know the guy in this front-page newspaper story with the picture of the three of us’ and throughout the telling the newspaper photo would change from three people to two people to one. It was so well done; i didn’t even notice them grabbing different papers, but it was incredibly effective. And kind of funny too, at times, if you think of it as a comedy instead of focusing on how the idea of it is horrifying.
The stories that stuck with me the most, however, were the ones that seemed most human and most realistic, with no aliens and little sci-fi as you’d stereotypically think of it. Whereas before seeing this show I would have guessed that TTZ was most in its element with those kinds of alien-y or weird-metaphysical-phenomena stories, after seeing this i understand that the genius of it comes in these more realistic, normal-human stories that ask very unnerving questions about the plain human condition that we all experience. For example, one that I keep thinking about is a take on a theme that we’ve seen repeatedly in many different art forms, but it doesn’t make it any less upsetting. In this one, an astronaut is going to be sent on a mission that will take at least 50 years, but he will spend most of it on his ship in a cryo-chamber so he won’t age. Unforch, he falls in love right before his mission, with a woman (a great Franc Ashman) who would be left on earth to age naturally, and so when he leaves, they are saying goodbye to their relationship for good. Then 50 years pass and the astronaut has returned to earth. yippee! But oh no: Of course, humans being terrible at communicating but wanting to make nice gestures, the woman decided to cryo-freeze herself the entire time so that when her man returned, they would be the same age. But of course, humans and so on, the man decided NOT to take his cold nap in his ship and instead spent the 50 years ageing as normal. Ughhhh you guysss! It’s so sad right! Kind of like a Magi twist kind of thing but sooooo much worse i mean homegirl’s hair would grow back but you can’t un-age! FFS i’m still kind of really mad about this one and it’s not real. Just so sad to think about! Remind me that it’s not real!
The other one that made the biggest impact and I thought was impeccably done was a sketch about racism in America. In this story, it was the height of nuclear-war fears (now?) and, so sad, a bomb was coming right to the heart of America. A neighbourhood of families dealt with the news and their decisions in a tense situation that made all kinds of brutal thoughts come out among them. Only one of the families has a bomb shelter, and the rest fight about who should get to join them in their tiny hole. They start understandably enough, a young white couple arguing that they should get to go because they have a baby, things like that. But as time to fight for survival runs out, they lose all restraint and the gloves come off and they resort to all kinds of race-based arguments. “My people were here first” vs. “Well my people literally built everything you see around you.” “You can’t love this country like I do because you weren’t born here” vs. “Well I actually had to take a test to become a citizen, you were just an accident of birth.” Things like that. I was riveted, honestly, and so impressed by how much it really reflected the innerbelly of racist America. I particularly loved when the white woman so perfectly yelled about how the minorities in the room, especially the black couple, didn’t deserve to be the ones to survive because they hadn’t been there as long and they don’t love America like the whites do and yada yada bullshit like that, which she immediately followed with “Now I don’t have a racist bone in my body…” and I GUFFAWED because it was just too too perfect. Oh white American women we have SO MUCH work to do. This scene was just too accurate with the things that come out when you think you have nothing and everything left to lose, and too spot-on with how the various groups in America think and talk. And on top of all that, it portrayed really realistic survival instincts and things that people would very believably resort to if this kind of event arose, which I really really hope it never does.
So The Twilight Zone, made theatrical, had some very poignant and provocative moments. Some of them worked very well in the theatre, but some I couldn’t help but think probably gained nothing from the transfer off the small screen. The racism scene worked well because it was so theatrical, but others clearly would have been equally or more effective on TV. I wonder what the selection process for the adaptation involved. It’s always hard to compare adaptations of the same work across different platforms, and for something so famous and well-known, this translation, while not great, is solid and pretty entertaining, even if it has too many scary masks (and those cringey monologues) for my taste.
The Almeida is a cool spot in Islington, so far from the normal theatre district, which is nice. However, it is a very cramped lobby, and they don’t open the auditorium up for way too long so everyone is kind of squeezed in vying for standing space, which is ludicrous. They need to just open the doors earlier. Also, tickets are a little expensive for it being essentially an experimental hip downtown-style theatre joint (except uptown, but I’m using NYC speak).
OH OH this will have nothing to do with your experience, but I must share: The man sitting two seats away from me (I was next to his wife) PEELED AND ATE AN ORANGE DURING THE SHOW. WHO DOES THAT. WHOOOO DOES THAT. It was the strongest smelling orange ever and even though I like oranges I got nauseous. WHO DOES THAT OMG CAN PEOPLE PLEASE TRY TO BEHAVE BETTER IN THE THEATRE FFS?