Rod Serling’s vision gets new life in two stage adaptations in Santa Cruz
Over the next month, DNA’s Pop Up Comedy Club will elicit plenty of giggles and guffaws, but for its debut presentation, director Miguel Reyna went with something a little more disquieting. The Twilight Zone Live On Stage, opening July 24, will feature adaptations of two episodes from Rod Serling’s original TV anthology show, “Midnight Sun” and “The Howling Man.”
“This is going to be off-putting and disturbing, and that’s what I like about the Twilight Zone episodes—they kind of move your center around,” says DNA.
Thankfully, Santa Cruz generally embraces the unconventional, says Reyna, who brings a certain fanboy element to the project, having seen every episode of Serling’s show several times over in reruns.
“When I was a little kid, my mom went to work late at night and she wanted me to record the episodes,” says Reyna. “Here’s an 8, 9-year-old kid watching the show for the first time, blowing my little kid mind. I think that was one of the first things that really blew me away.”
That’s why in this stage adaptation, he’s sticking to the script. He wants to portray the show so authentically that if Serling himself walked in and sat down, he’d approve.
Not only did Reyna have to choose episodes that were easily adaptable to stage, he also wanted to focus on two that will resonate with today’s audience.
In “Midnight Sun,” a young woman and her neighbor fight to survive after the Earth has changed its orbit and is rapidly getting closer to the sun, creating a dramatic spike in global temperatures. Neighbors move away in fear, townspeople ravage the supermarkets for supplies, Walking Dead-style, strangers break into homes—it’s a near-apocalyptic world where resources are running out and water is increasingly limited.
Reyna chose the second episode, “Howling Man,” because the protagonist, Dave Ellington, is confronted with a question of evil’s existence—“on a much deeper level, there’s a lot of stuff going around right now, [like] the shootings in Charleston,” says Reyna, that make the question still relevant today.
Serling and the other writers for the original late-’50s, early-’60s TV show were incredibly forward thinking, agrees Alie Mac, who plays Norma in “Midnight Sun”—an artist living alone who proves stoic in the face of a harsh new reality.
“Seeing how independent she was for a ’50s woman—they wrote her as a single woman rocking her life, and I think you can relate to that in 2015,” says Mac. “She’s holding out on her own. To me, it was refreshing to see a woman’s character written as strong as she would be today.”
Science fiction has often had an uncanny way of providing storylines, characters, and fears that transcend their time period, says Reyna. Bringing the narrative to theater makes it that much more pertinent in a way that television simply can’t, says Mac.
“When you’re watching TV, you can eat your Twizzlers and pause it, go to the bathroom,” she says. “But with live stage, it’s these human emotions that are going to come through right at you.”
Comedy and theater help us process the world and all its darkness, says DNA. As part of the Pop Up Comedy Club, which begins July 17 with comedy performances of all sorts running through Aug. 1, the “Last Late Night Show” will start immediately after each Zone performance. It plays with musings on a last-night-on-Earth theme, featuring comedians from the Bay Area scene. Because if you’re going to go, you might as well go laughing, right?
For most people, it takes a lot to journey outside the norm; it’s easier to grow roots into the couch, hearing Netflix ask every so often, “Are you still watching?” and getting a small thrill when “good plans” become cancelled plans.
That’s exactly why Reyna and DNA want to get people out of that comfort zone and into … the Twilight Zone.
“There’s always that sense of expectation that something is not quite right, what is going to happen?” says DNA. “It’s good to question, the best thing you can do is question—questioning the confederate flag, questioning racial identity, gender identity. We live in a world of questioning, so we want to provide the framework for people to look through and see what’s going on and to laugh, or at least be entertained.”
Info: Twilight Zone Live On Stage is at 8 p.m., July 24, 25 and Aug. 1, Center Stage Theatre, 1001 Center St., Santa Cruz. $15 adv/$20 door. For full list of shows, visit standupsantacruz.com. Tickets at brownpapertickets.com. PHOTO: Scott Kravitz and Alie Mac in the new production of ‘Midnight Sun,’ opening July 24. CHIP SCHEUER