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Title: The Twilight Zone

Rating: 4 Stars

Theater Schmeater annually does a live reenactment of several Twilight Zone episodes. This was the first year that I checked it out.

I was interested to see if they would try to do a modern take of the episodes. For those of you old enough to remember, back in 1998 Gus Van Sant did a scene by scene faithful remake of the Hitchcock classic Psycho. What was interesting is that it was, in many ways, a different movie than the Hitchcock classic. For one thing, the acting was different. Thirty-five years of method acting has created a generation of actors that avoid the stylized acting more common in the earlier films.  Also, even though the scenes were nearly identical, both the actors and Van Sant made different enough choices that I found the film interesting to watch.

In this case, I watched some scenes from the original Twilight series and they seemed to be pretty faithful recreations. The only really big difference that I saw was the Rod Serling character himself. In a live setting, having the writer come in and comment upon his work like some kind of one man Greek chorus is at best a jarring experience. Knowing that, the actor playing Serling came in with a nonchalance and a gleam in his eye that signaled that he understood the ridiculousness of it.

Four episodes were shown. They were:

The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine

This was a pretty straightforward retelling of  Sunset Boulevard. An actress, once famous, now long forgotten, spends her time in a room in her mansion watching her old films. Her friends try to draw her out and even potentially get her a part in a new movie, but since the part is not the romantic lead, she refuses to even entertain the notion.

In another bid to draw her back into reality, her friends bring to her one of her former romantic leads. Initially she’s excited but then becomes horrified at how poorly he has aged.

Finally, through sheer determination and some Twilight Zone magic, she manages to somehow will herself back into the actual movies that she is screening. Her friends look on in horror as she calls out to them from the movie screen.

This clearly is about the fleeting nature of fame and how difficult it must be to live your life once your time has passed you by.

The After Hours

A woman comes to a department store to procure a gift. Mysteriously, she is sent up to the 9th floor, which only contains the one item that she’s looking to procure. Even more mysteriously, it turns out that there is no 9th floor at the store.

She ends up trapped in the store after hours. It’s there that the mannequins come to life and it’s there that she discovers that she’s also a mannequin. Apparently, mannequins are given one month off a year where they are allowed to live human lives.

She is late coming back and the other mannequins are upset with her. Eventually, she apologizes and obediently changes form back to a mannequin.

Originally aired in 1960, this is an interesting statement upon the unsettling effect that the rise of modern corporations have had. People were feeling (and still are) trapped in 9 to 5 jobs that were not physically challenging or dangerous but left them feeling unsatisfied and vaguely without purpose. Here, the mannequin only experiences life during the month that she’s not at work. At work, she is literally a piece of furniture.

Five Characters In Search Of An Exit

In a cylindrical prison awakes an army major. Trapped with him (although they’ve been there apparently much longer) is a clown, a ballerina, a hobo, and a bagpiper.

The major is desperate to escape, but it seems impossible. The other characters have all attempted the same things that the major is attempting but have become long since resigned to their fates and are actually annoyed with the major’s persistence.

They know that they are not alone because periodically a gong sounds which nearly deafens them.

Finally, the major does concoct a plan which does allow him to successfully escape.

In the next scene, a person picks up an army doll who hands it to the person who is collecting toy donations. The person throws it back into the donation barrel and comments upon the fact that so far, only five toys have been collected. He then continues to ring his donation bell.

This obviously prefigures Toy Story by about fifty years. It touches upon the ideas that toys only experience joy if they are loved, and once discarded, are left desolate and without meaning.

From the theme as well as from the title, it’s clear that Serling was inspired by Satre. Existentialism posits that our lives are void without meaning, just like the toys portrayed here.

The Midnight Sun

Here it’s been reported that the Earth has changed its orbit and is now heading closer to the sun. As a result, the planet is getting unbearably hot. People are fleeing North, even though there really is no hope even there. Finally, there are two women left in sweltering New York. They have to fight off an intruder who just wants water. One woman collapses and the other then explodes in grief at the thought of being left alone.

Cut to the next scene. The woman in hysterics is actually suffering from a fever. In fact, Earth has changed its orbit, but it actually is moving further from the sun, dooming its inhabitants to a freezing death.

As the woman, still recovering from her fevered dream, remarks how refreshing it feels to be cool, the other woman, shivering uncontrollably, can barely respond.

Aired even before the climate debate change really started, this is a precursor to the changes that the planet will be going through over the next looming period of years. It’s also a statement on how the human mind, when faced with the most horrific circumstances, still tries to find an escape to peace.

All in all, it was a fun night out. I can only imagine fifty years from now, there will be another theater company somewhere re-staging Black Mirror episodes. It’ll be interesting how the British Prime Minister fucking a pig scene will be staged.

 

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