RAY BRADBURY’S PILLAR OF FIRE at Theatre Of NOTE
Hollywood Fringe Platinum Award Winner
“Oberst does not perform the role of Lantry, he exists in it.”
Pillar Of Fire is unlike anything else Ray Bradbury ever wrote. A conflux of the elements inherent to his style; the fusion of rational with irrational, the lover of literature, the modernist secure in science, the poet, the primitive, the brute; it has none of the amalgamation of these elements that would later appear, as Bradbury had yet to harmonize the distinct voices he bore within himself. In “Pillar Of Fire” the voices each perform in severance, with a purity of pitch that would later be muted in the cohesion of his creative choir. Unlike Bradbury’s later works, Pillar Of Fire is more rage than reflection, more poem than prose, and more horror story than speculative fiction.
Bill Oberst Jr. has chosen his role well. His lean hard body and gaunt face have a cadaverous quality. With nothing onstage other than dirt, he does more than become the role. As the resurrected corpse discovers the world anew, Oberst creates it, becoming the reality of Bradbury’s dystopia for his audience. Oberst does not perform the role of Lantry, he exists in it.
Pillar of Fire is truly remarkable work; one of the very best, if not the best solo show the 2015 Hollywood Fringe had to offer. Winner: Platinum Medal. Winner: Encore Producers’ Award. – Ernest Kearney, June 2015
Los Angeles Stage Review: RAY BRADBURY’S PILLAR OF FIRE
“Oberst’s storytelling is so mouth-watering, it will send psychological chills up your spine without a hint of gore. Superior performance. Do not miss” – Tracey Paleo
Duality is never more potent than in this riveting piece, written by Ray Bradbury as a response to Americans’ burning of comic books to “save” young minds and interpreted for stage by cult actor Bill Oberst Jr. at Hollywood’s Hudson Theatre.
In 2349 Earth has been cleansed of morbidity and corpses. When the government decides to destroy a remaining ancient graveyard, 400 years-dead William Lantry wakes up. Pillar of Fire holds one of the more chilling futuristic outcomes for the human race; an idealistic singularity where all sense of individuality, passion and imagination has been wiped out, replaced by a deathly glug of life without desire. We realize along with Lantry that human beings must live in duality, for existing in a world where there is only light is just as terrifying as one submerged in utter darkness.
Pillar Of Fire is straight up, deftly performed and extraordinary in every detail. Oberst’s storytelling is so mouth-watering, it will send psychological chills up your spine, without a hint of gore. A superior performance bar none. Highly recommended. – Tracey Paleo, June 2015
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
Sample audience reviews from the Los Angeles debut of “Ray Bradbury’s Pillar Of Fire,” a solo stage adaptation by Bill Oberst Jr. of Ray Bradbury’s dark 1948 novella. The show opened at the 2015 Hollywood Fringe Festival and ran for two blocks of sold-out performances at Theatre Of NOTE and Hudson Theatre, winning an Ernest Kearney Platinum Award and a “Best Solo Show” nod from Bitter Lemons in its Best Of LA Theatre 2015 Roundup. After touring the show to several college campuses and performing it in Germany, Oberst performed “Ray Bradbury’s Pillar Of Fire” Off-Broadway as a part of the United Solo Theatre Festival in New York in 2017, receiving a United Solo Award. All comments were left on the Hollywood Fringe official website:
“Bill Oberst Jr. was brilliant and compelling.”
“If you can only see one show this year, THIS IS THE ONE.”
“Outstanding performance from Oberst, a performer of enormous charisma who turns Bradbury’s cryptic, eerie story into a compelling one hour drama. Highly recommended.”
“I was enthralled when I saw it the first time. With great pleasure I returned for the final performance and was not disappointed. One could even close their eyes and see this character come to life – colorful, humorous, full of rage, and sad, all at the same time. Bravo.”
PAUL EDWARDS June 07, 2015
“Bill Oberst Jr. gives life to Ray Bradbury’s words. Through intense physicality and an impassioned delivery, he tells the story of William Lantry, the last monster in the world. A haunting story, masterfully told and staged. This show gets my highest recommendation.”
“The performance is masterful. A dance of darkness begins and we find dead superstition arisen as William Lantry in the NEW world. Bradbury’s masterful text is resurrected, the sound exact, and the future scientist appropriately serene. Brilliant to construct a world with some dirt, chalk and our minds. You will be consumed!”
“Bill Oberst Jr is fantastic. Let’s just get that out of the way. It’s a one man show and he’s the man. And he’s huge. Such a great performance. To say “And the the material is Ray Bradbury” is underselling the weight of what’s going on here. This is Ray Bradbury at his early best. You can see so much of his future stories in this piece. Poe, Lovecraft, fire, autumn, a seemingly absurd premise played out to its logical and most human conclusion. Censorship. Persecution. Technological neo-puritanism. It’s all there. And in Oberst’s skillful hands, it just flows. There are no real highlights. The whole thing is a highlight. Here’s how you know. The lights went out and I was sorry it was over. In fact, with 2000 shows to see, I’ll probably see this one again. Pillar of Fire doesn’t have many performances and not a lot of people are talking about it. It’s not a fringy piece. It’s just a great piece of living, breathing art that you probably won’t see anywhere else. So, if you want to balance your Fringe dance card with some serious kick ass, this is the show. And now that I’ve written about it, I’m sure. I am gonna see it again.”
“Truly remarkable work. One one of the very best, if not the best, solo show the Fringe had to offer.”
Review: Bill Oberst Jr. in Ray Bradbury’s Pillar of Fire at Theatre Row, NYC
Mark L. Blackman 09/18/17
Many of us first encountered the term “Pillar of Fire” in the Book of Exodus, where it was a manifestation of God accompanying the Hebrew wanderers. In Ray Bradbury’s 1948 sf/horror novella of that name, it is starkly literal, the towering stone Incinerators into which cadavers are consigned, like so much trash, both the newly deceased and ultimately those long-buried. The disinterring of the last cemetery on Earth (appropriately in Salem) disturbs the grave of one William Langtry (died 1933), who “[comes] out of the Earth hating.”
He finds himself in the sterilized, debatable utopia of 2349, where, in the name of sanitation and mental health, not only are the dead cremated, but so too have been all dark or disturbing influences, such as horror literature like the “ghastly” works of Ambrose Bierce, Edgar Allan Poe and H. P. Lovecraft (“the Great Burning”). (Bradbury once described the story, which he also adapted into a play, as “a rehearsal for Fahrenheit 451.”) Crime – theft and murder – and fear have been eliminated and become inconceivable, but, Lantry discovers, so has the spirit animating humanity. “Declaring war on an entire world,” “the last dead man on Earth” embarks on a spree of murder and the destruction of Incinerators, hoping, in his madness and loneliness, to restore fear of the dark and to create others like him (“new friends”).
On September 17th, actor Bill Oberst, Jr. brought his one-man performance of Bradbury’s Pillar of Fire, directed by Ezra Buzzington, to the United Solo Theatre Festival in New York, in the Studio Theatre at Theatre Row (Off-Broadway), after two sold-out runs in Los Angeles. Additionally, his staged theatrical reading of the novella won an Ernest Kearney Platinum Award and was named Best Solo Show Of Hollywood Fringe Festival in the Best Of Los Angeles Theater 2015 roundup at Bitter-Lemons.com. The one-night New York run, it should be noted, sold out as well.
The Emmy and Lon Chaney Award-winning fan favorite indie horror actor, whose scarred face is perhaps most familiar from tv’s Criminal Minds (where he was an Unsub who got away) and Scream Queens, calls the piece a hymn to Halloween. “From the opening sentence: ‘He came out of the Earth hating,’ Bradbury is defending Halloween and horror against those who want a world without superstition. In 2349, burial is banned – they burn people’s bodies like trash. There’s only one dead man left, and he’s pissed! Only Ray Bradbury can make you cheer for a zombie terrorist.”
Commanding the bare stage, firmly gripping the audience, Oberst breathed sympathy, melancholy and tragedy, along with “graveyard dust” (after all, one can’t breathe life into the respiration-challenged walking dead), into the character of Lantry (whom, face it, is impossible to “cheer”). Clad in rags (Oberst was aware that clothes would not have survived 400 years of burial), didn’t – despite it being labeled “a theatrical reading” – merely recite Bradbury’s text, but performed it as a dramatic monologue, only occasionally referring to a copy of the story in an old edition of S is for Space. (The production was edited and abridged from the original novella, rather than being a staging of the aforementioned play. Bradbury’s beautifully descriptive and powerful language thereby were retained largely intact to fuel the piece.) Accented by lighting, brief music and sound effects, it remained a one-man presentation, with several other characters’ dialog emerging illusory in loudspeakered pre-recordings. (I’m uncertain if that idea worked. Was it intended to render the living into the Voice of God?)
The production clearly was a labor of love for Oberst. “‘Pillar of Fire’ was the first piece of Bradbury I ever read. It’s dear to my heart,” he told me, relating how, years ago, he’d found of S is for Space in the woods. It’s still his “go-to book.” I have a feeling that the copy that he was clutching was that very one.