Los Angeles Review: Ray Bradbury’s Pillar Of Fire
Reviewed by Michael J.W. Thomas
Ray Bradbury’s ‘Pillar of Fire’ read with permission and performed by Bill Oberst Jr.
“He came out of the earth, hating. Hate was his father; hate was his mother.”
You walk into the theater. The stage is bare; no scenery, no art, no props. As you adjust yourself to the surroundings, you then notice a …thing… in the middle of the bare stage. It doesn’t move, not even an inch. After a very long time, you start to notice movement.
From a seemingly crumpled heap of rags, a man emerges, or what you think is a man. It is contorted, as if in anguish, rising, slowly, painfully, untangling the wreck of his arms and legs, growling unintelligibly at first, then finally forming words. Words of pain, words of anger, words of hate.
His name is William Lantry, the year is 2349, and he has risen from the grave, 400 years dead. An alien world greets him, devoid of fear, of imagination; people no longer fear the dark.
And William Lantry hates that.
“Pillar of Fire,” a short story recitative by the late legendary writer Ray Bradbury, is a tale of a man out of his time. Lon Chaney Award and Emmy® winner Bill Oberst, Jr. is William Lantry, the sole player in this recitative. No stranger to the solo performance (“JFK,” “Jesus of Nazareth,” “A Tribute to Lewis Grizzard”), Oberst commands the stage. In his film career, many have commented that when Bill enters the scene, everyone else in the film virtually disappears; it becomes “The Bill Oberst Jr. Show.”
Now, here, physically alone, on a bare stage, Oberst grabs your attention, figuratively grabbing the audience by the throat and staring you down. Of all the aspects of this recitative (though, in truth, calling his performance a recitative is like calling “Odette’s Dance” from “Swan Lake” a walk through a grocery store) is Oberst’s total concentration on the character.
The stage is no larger than a studio apartment; only a footstep separates, Bill from the audience. Yet, his performance never breaks the “fourth wall,” even when some clown in the front row is texting right in front of him. And though that “fourth wall’ is firmly in place, he drags the audience into his pathetic, wretched world.
His performance is indeed magical; part storyteller, part zombie, part dancer, part magician, part comic, Oberst moves around that tiny stage, pulling the few props he uses during the performance virtually out of thin air, changing costumes without your noticing it, and never, not even once, leaving the audience’s line of vision. The short (50 minutes) performance flies by at a dizzying pace.
Credit also must be given to the show’s technical director, Mark McClain Wilson, who complements Oberst’s performance, with his subtle lighting moods through the performance, and also the disembodied voices that act as a second player to Oberst’s soliloquy, as he performs the dual role of narrator and actor.
Those who only knew Oberst as the unofficial “King of Indie Cinema Horror,” are depriving themselves of a large facet of Oberst’s repertoire, if any one of these live performances, in particular, “Pillar of Fire,” is not part of your Bill Oberst Jr. experience.
There are only three performances left at the Hudson Theatres (Hudson Guild) 6539 Santa Monica Boulevard in Hollywood, California, June 11th, and the following two Thursdays. Live horror, Bill Oberst-style, is an experience not to be missed!
“Pillar of Fire” is read with the permission of Don Congdon Associates, Inc. on behalf of Ray Bradbury Enterprises, Inc. Copyright 1948 Love Romances, Inc. – Michael J.W. Thomas