By: Jack Finney
Adapted and Directed by: Paul Edwards
At City Lit Theater
The Body Snatchers is B-movie fun with A-Grade Intelligence.
Over the course of their lives, most people have seen on of the many movie incarnations of Jack Finney’s science fiction novel The Body Snatchers. Up until now, this novel has been the inspiration for four movies, the most recent being the abysmal The Invasion in 2007. Although familiar with the story, I have yet to see a full version of any of these movies. It is easy to see why this story has been told so many times; the themes present are still relevant today. In City Lit Theater’s new adaptation there is a sense of freshness combined with plenty of loving nostalgia, which makes this thoughtful story surprisingly fun.
The play is adapted from the original 1955 novel, rather than any of the films, but most of the story is still there. Alien “pods” drift down from space with the intention to replace human life in order for them to survive. They create exact copies of the town’s residents, the only difference being that there is a distinct lack of emotion in their eyes. Dr. Miles Bennell (Brian Pastor) and his recently divorced former sweetheart Becky (Sheila Willis) work to uncover the mystery behind what is going on in the town alongside their friends Jack & Teddy (Thad Anzur and Shawna Tucker). Although the story is highly familiar to many, I am going to refrain from giving away the rest of the plot, especially since the ending is different from the film versions. However, there is a wonderful homage to the original film’s ending towards the end of the second act which only adds to the levels this adaptation works on. What makes this adaptation so wonderful is that it is so intelligent and doesn’t try to be more than what the source material provides. Adaptor/Director Paul Edwards trusts the dialogue, the characters, and even the tongue-in-cheek narration by Miles. He uses the lack of emotion of the “pod people” to wonderful comedic effect, including moments that hearken back to other great self-aware comedies such as Airplane! However, the comedy does not overshadow the serious moments and the messages of the story are not lost. It is an adaptation that works on all levels because it is entertaining and thought-provoking at the same time.
Even though the acting is B-movie inspired, it is very strong and moving at times. When I say B-movie inspired that is not to say that it is bad or hokey, but more self-aware and a homage to sci-fi movies in the 1950s. Brian Pastor as Miles is wonderfully glib, narrating to the audience and casually dismissing the times when other characters hear this narration. He is curious rather than scared, and in spite of the situation around him, maintains calm and control. Sheila Willis is beautiful affecting as Becky; especially her ability to navigate through a difficult monologue towards the end of the second act. Jerry Bloom is wonderful as the psychiatrist who advocates a logical explanation for the proceedings (there is more to his character, but I don’t want to give anything away). His monologue in Act 1 is one of the highlights of the show. Although I am not specifically mentioning everyone, the acting is wonderful across the board and the entire cast deserves a nod. There are several funny, creepy, multi-layered performances. As an additional note, there is some very good pantomime work and unified movement sequences (particularly the final moments of Act 1).
The set design of Roger Wykes is brilliantly appropriate by being structured like a piece of De Stijl artwork. This style of art is purposefully simple; using only straight lines, primary colors, and black & white. Almost all of the set pieces (such as the light switches and doors) are left to the imagination, as if all of the emotion was taken out of the space. Furthermore, two projection screens display images of 1950s America that fluxuate between black & white and color alongside functional projections such as window blinds or an open field. These projections are injected perfectly into each scene, never becoming a distraction, creating a sense of nostalgia and lending itself to the B-movie feel. There is even a final projection at the end of the act indicating intermission. The attention to detail and intelligence of the set & projection design is truly remarkable.
Although the show drags at certain points in the second act, it remains true to the novel and never holds back on moments of fun. If you are a fan of the novel, or any of the movies, I would definitely make a trip up to City Lit Theater and see this show. Perhaps if you’re more familiar with the story than me, you will be able to find additional nods to the previous movies. This is an experience that is rare to Chicago because it is an adaptation that is intelligent, entertaining, and thought-provoking.
At City Lit Theater, 1020 W. Bryn Mawr Ave, Chicago, IL 60660. Tickets $25, Group, Senior, and Student Discounts available, Call 773-293-3682, www.citylit.org. Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00PM, Sundays 3:00 PM, and Thursday April 29 and May 6 at 8:00 PM. Running time is approximately 2 hours with intermission. Through May 9.