First Person Singular steps into "The Twilight Zone"

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"Rod Serling" welcomes the audience into another dimension.
Photo by Kory Sutherland/First Person Singular

When the narrator walked onto Ashby Stage Monday night with cigarette in hand, head cocked, and eyebrows raised to welcome everyone to The Twilight Zone, the audience let out a collective laugh of recognition for this Rod Serling look-a-like.

First Person Singular's Everyday Monsters — despite its inclusion in the ensemble's “Apocalypse Not Now” season — came dangerously close to doomsday in an imaginative and thought-provoking reading of three classic Twilight Zone episodes.

The company opened with the Armageddon tale “Third from the Sun," which employs a textbook version of The Twilight Zone’s signature table-turning trick when it's revealed that the characters are not fleeing from earth but in fact escaping to it. The actors brought the script to life with animated gestures and tones, making it easy for your imagination to take care of the rest. When it came time to depart the planet by space ship, they broke their formation downstage and scrambled to the "landing zone," dramatizing the act of escape.

Next was up was “It’s a Good Life,” which worked suprisingly well with the dramatic reading format. Anthony, a young monster, terrorizes the inhabitants of a small town in Ohio, turning them into faux-happy drones lest they might be turned into jack-in-the-boxes or three-headed gophers. Reading from the scripts made sense with the characters’ forced positive attitudes. Then, when the characters gathered to watch Anthony’s "TV" (an invention as bad as current day reality TV), the production used an actual audio clip from the episode; this added a layer of complexity to the performance and cleverly paid homage to the original.

The last segment of the evening brought home the political relevance of the show with “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street.” Director Joe Christiano noted before the performance how Rod Serling used his Twilight Zone worlds to play out issues that were relevant in America at the time, and this one was thick with inspiration from Red Scare paranoia. A freak blackout in a small town spurs finger pointing and an alien hunt. This portrayal of how a fear of the unknown can turn people into monsters strikes deeply one of the catalysts for the arms race and stays relevant today with the current war on terror.

First Person Singular has coordinated dramatic readings and literary mash-ups throughout the bay area since its formation in 2010; this year the group has been taken under wing by Berkeley’s Shotgun Players for a series of more formal performances at the Ashby Stage. The only catch about First Person Singular’s performances? They're one-night-only events — so plan ahead to get your "Apocalypse Not Now" fix. The final two entries are Dec. 3's Hear Me Now?: Cell Phone Monologues (which Christiano described as, “putting the one-sided conversation where it belongs: onstage”) and Dec. 18's Schmaltz!: The Genius of Barry Manilow (a holiday sing-a-long).

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