To be frank, I’d have to say my skill as a playwright doesn’t go beyond that of an enthusiastic amateur. No one has ever paid me to write a play. But imagine my delight when I showed my take on “War of the Worlds” to the Bigfork Community Players and they, in return, offered to produce it. I wonder if H.G. Wells felt the same.
Wells wrote the original “War of the Worlds” in the late 19th century. Writing both as a novelist and social critic, he addressed issues of imperialism, self-determination and fate. He wanted to stimulate thought about the civilized world’s history of eliminating indigenous people to take over a land, about the futility of fighting valiantly against an insurmountable foe, and about limitations in our abilities to unilaterally determine our life courses.
I, like others who have rewritten the story since, approached the task with less lofty goals. Although the current world environment offers much opportunity for social criticism, my motivation in writing yet another interpretation of Wells’ story was simply to provide an entertaining yarn of alien invasion.
And nothing brings a story home like setting it in your own hometown. It’s a perfectly legitimate premise. The alien attack was worldwide, but originally told from H.G’s perspective of England. When Orson Welles presented Howard Koch’s take on the story, the perspective of the global attack moved to the East Coast of the United States, most notably New York and New Jersey. But, had the global attack actually taken place, we would have heard about it not from a New York radio station, but one more local; Kalispell station KGEZ, for example.
Having some familiarity with John Hendricks and his radio station, I wrote the script with John as a major character in the story. I was certainly pleased, but not terribly surprised when John agreed to play himself in the production.
The original work by Wells was a novel, not a play. But even as such, it was divided into two acts. The first described the horror of the attack. The second was a more sociological description of the world in the days and months after the attack. I felt the story was in the first part and thus devoted both acts of my play to the attack itself. You get quite a bit of latitude when you write for free.
As I began to write my version of “War of the Worlds,” I was thinking of a radio script, similar to that of Koch’s. But, as the story developed, somewhere along the line it clearly turned into a stage play. Although a bit surprised, I wasn’t in any way disappointed by the change in concept or the resultant script. And now, as I watch and listen to it in rehearsal, I’m intrigued and thrilled as I hear the twists the actors put on the script. Some of the twists I may have had in mind when I wrote it and forgotten, but some of them are interpretations that I’m pretty sure I hadn’t considered when I wrote it. Live theater is like that; it’s a collaboration of everyone involved in a production.
I’m not a comedy writer, but those who know me find me to be occasionally sarcastic and something of a smart aleck. Sometimes this unintentionally carries over to my writing. For better or worse, there are times during rehearsal when, in the midst of terror, a line would sneak through that consumed the cast with laughter. And when I wrote the president’s speech, I built it almost entirely of language our current president has used. Although I think he intended it to be serious, when you hear enough of his statements strung together, you can’t help but laugh.
There is a line in the director’s introduction to the production, “If you find something funny about an alien attack, by all means feel free to laugh.”
I thought I was joking when I wrote it, but it turns out to be good advice. I guess the joke’s on me.
David Vale retired from the world of psychology and statistics long before he took up play writing. This column was written last week as he anxiously awaited the premiere of his play in Bigfork.