You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Ray Bradbury’s Wisdom 2116

Sweet fable about seeking contentment with one's lot is closer to performance art than dramaturgy.

With: Rob Harryman, Shanti Harter, Steve Josephson, Sarah Mann, Samantha Marcella, Jessie McLean, Lisa Morrice, Christine Reese, Andrew Ruesch, Anthony Scarano, David Stoneman, Monica Thibodeaux.

Almost 50 years ago, legendary sci-fi author Ray Bradbury tailored to Charles Laughton and wife Elsa Lanchester a tiny chamber tuner only now unveiled as “Ray Bradbury’s Wisdom 2116” at the Fremont Center Theater. Neither a visionary tract nor a neglected masterpiece, this sweet fable about seeking contentment with one’s lot is closer to performance art than traditional dramaturgy. Prodigious use of dance, masks, puppetry, Expressionist stagecraft and John Hoke’s lilting melodies lends heft to the familiar theme and skimpy (45 minutes) running time.

This is one of those Pierrot/Pierrette things in which props and cast alike are brought out of a trunk by a Dr. Coppelius type (David Stoneman), the perpetually leering emcee whose knowing grin presages nothing in particular. This dude hawks marionettes with a thriving robot business on the side, albeit a quaintly retro version of artificial intelligence one can easily believe was conceived in 1957.

We’re not much beyond “Forbidden Planet” here, but helmer-choreographer Steve Josephson sculpts an attractive troupe of dancers — equally at home with ballet, Fosse sizzle and hip-hop — into Mr. Marionette’s inventory for our central couple’s Christmas shopping pleasure.

It takes nothing away from the likable, topiary-headed Rob Harryman and Lisa Morrice to confess the fun of imagining the crusty Laughtons as the fading Wycherlys, each of whom commissions a robot version of him- or herself to serve as a post-death replacement. But these vain gift-givers design flattering avatars with no thought to what the recipient might want in a companion: She demands to be reborn as a combination scholar and sexual wildcat, he as a stud with a 79 IQ and the works of Zane Grey in his head.

Once the packages are opened, hijinks ensue, and everything is danced and acted with considerable wit by Jessie McLean as the Bride-bot (squeeze her and a pensee comes out) and Josephson himself, on press night, as a Chippendale-bot. There’s visual pleasure aplenty on the Fremont’s crackerbox stage but nothing quite so touching as real, tiny marionettes representing Mr. and Mrs. in youth and old age, achieving the same heart-tugs as a similar sequence in Pixar’s “Up” in affirming the joy of finally accepting life’s terms.

Hoke’s ravishing principal waltz, and explorations with more modern styles, mesh nicely with Bradbury’s naively charming lyrics. Sometimes the author gets off a wryly cynical snap, as in a reference to one sign of Christmas approaching as “pumpkin heads rotting on the porch.”

But grace, not bite, is the order of the day here.

Popular on Variety

Ray Bradbury's Wisdom 2116

Fremont Center Theater, South Pasadena, Calif.; 78 seats; $20 top

Production: A Pandemonium Theater Company and Gallimaufry Performing Arts presentation of a musical in one act with book and lyrics by Ray Bradbury, with additional material by Steve Josephson. Music by John Hoke. Developed, directed and choreographed by Josephson.

Crew: Sets, J.W. Layne; costumes, Sarah Schuessler; lighting, Stuart A. Fabel; makeup, Darlene Krantz; marionettes, Czech Marionettes; stage manager, Elliott Woodruff. Opened, reviewed Jan. 16, 2010. Runs through Feb. 27. Running time: 45 MIN.

Cast: With: Rob Harryman, Shanti Harter, Steve Josephson, Sarah Mann, Samantha Marcella, Jessie McLean, Lisa Morrice, Christine Reese, Andrew Ruesch, Anthony Scarano, David Stoneman, Monica Thibodeaux.

More Scene

  • Debra-Messing-Donald-Trump

    Debra Messing Lampoons Donald Trump in Play Based on Mueller Report

    Debra Messing portrayed President Donald Trump in an all-star play based on the Mueller report on Monday at Beverly Hills’ Saban Theatre. Wearing a light pant suit and sitting with legs spread confidently, Messing nailed Trump’s mannerisms in the one-night-only play, “You Can’t Make This Sh*t Up,” which raised funds for a Barbara Boxer-led PAC [...]

  • Kathryn Hahn Mrs. Fletcher

    Kathryn Hahn Talks Working With an Intimacy Coordinator on 'Mrs. Fletcher'

    HBO’s new comedy “Mrs. Fletcher” follows the journey of an empty-nester divorcee who embarks on a journey of self-discovery and sexual exploration following her son’s departure for college. At the series premiere on Monday night at the Avalon Hollywood in Los Angeles, Kathryn Hahn discussed playing the titular role of Eve Fletcher, a middle-aged woman [...]

  • Taika Waititi Natalie Portman SDCC 2019

    Natalie Portman Weighs in on 'Thor: Love and Thunder's' Possible Breast Cancer Storyline

    Natalie Portman doesn’t know if “Thor: Love and Thunder” will include a breast cancer storyline for her character Jane Foster, but she’s definitely intrigued by the possibility. “It’s just very rare that these kinds of big entertainment films look at more serious, real-life issues,” she told Variety at L.A. Dance Project’s 8th annual fundraising gala [...]

  • Julie Andrews

    Julie Andrews Recalls Husband Blake Edwards' Battle With Depression

    The line to see Julie Andrews at the 92nd Street Y wrapped around the square of a sprawling New York City block. Seventy years since the start of her career, 60 since she asked “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?” as Lerner and Loewe’s first Eliza and 50 since she sang “The Sound of Music” before the [...]

  • Bombshell Charlize Theron Megyn Kelly

    'Bombshell': Why Charlize Theron Was Terrified of Playing Megyn Kelly

    Charlize Theron is getting some of the best buzz of her career for channeling Megyn Kelly in “Bombshell,” but the Oscar-winning actress admits she almost turned down the role. “I was shit scared,” Theron said during a question-and-answer session following a Manhattan screening of “Bombshell” on Sunday. Partly, she was worried about portraying someone who [...]

  • Natalie Portman Benjamin Millipied LA Dance

    Natalie Portman, Benjamin Millepied Help Raise Over $1 Million For L.A. Dance Project

    Natalie Portman may be joining Chris Hemsworth in Marvel’s “Thor 4: Love and Thunder,” but as the petite, Dior-clad actress struck a range of poses on the carpet inside downtown Los Angeles gallery space Hauser, Wirth & Schimmel on Saturday night, it was impossible to imagine her wielding an enormous hammer. But then, the Oscar [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content