There's something about The Twilight Zone. While other, crappier horror/sci-fi anthology shows -- The Hitchhiker, Tales From the Darkside, Monsters -- faded away, more than 40 years after its debut the Zone still airs daily in syndication, sucking in yet more fans with its creepy story lines and gotcha twists. The program was so memorable that it inspired a movie (R.I.P. Vic Morrow), at least 30 books, three knockoff series (Rod Serling's Night Gallery and two Zone revamps), and now "Twilight Zone: The Plays," eight adaptations of classic episodes staged in pairs Fridays and Saturdays in March.
Erin Ohanneson, the producer overseeing the technical tribulations of eight different miniplays -- each with its own director, actors, props, and staging requirements -- learned from experience that theatrical reworkings of well-loved material have built-in appeal. She and partner Jim Fourniadis were the creative team behind Spanganga's recent reinterpretations of Dr. Strangelove and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
"A lot of stuff from the same time period now seems really dated," says Ohanneson. "But The Twilight Zone, which took ordinary people and put them in situations where the rug was pulled out from under them, still taps into our hidden fears and freaks us out."
Admission is $11.50-15
Luckily for Ohanneson, the material translates smoothly to the stage. The original scripts, written by a stable of high-toned talent like Richard Matheson (I Am Legend, The Incredible Shrinking Man) and host Rod Serling, still crackle. And since the lion's share of shocks arose from character development and plot contortions rather than Zone's pathetically cheesy effects, Ohanneson's directors didn't need to fashion complicated illusions.
"It's really all about the acting," asserts Fourniadis, director of Nightmare at 20,000 Feet, a redux of the panic-on-a-plane episode that originally starred a young, scenery-chomping William Shatner. Having taken a peek at Fourniadis' cast in action, I tend to agree. Playing jittery passenger Bob Wilson, the twitchy, magnetic Jack Daniel is compelling as a man convinced he sees a mocking gremlin out his plane window; his skeptical wife (Kelleigh Trowbridge) emanates exasperated concern, and the steadily increasing anxiety of the airline's personnel (Krista Bray, Haggis Young) creates more tension than would an actor capering around in a bugaboo costume. Hell, the airborne creature in the original Zone looked like a tattered plush bear but was still scary enough to induce heartburn.
Along with Nightmare(playing March 19 and 20 with the spookariffic Living Doll, featuring malevolent manikin Talky Tina), look for Ohanneson and company's takes on the robot-fetish fantasy The Lonely, the post-apocalyptic Burgess Meredith vehicle Time Enough at Last, and (ooh! ooh!) It's a Good Life, best known for a scene in which a young Billy Mumy (Lost in Space) transforms an unlucky fella into a jack-in-the-box. For fervent fans used to getting their fix in half-hour stipends, this much Zone-age is like that first sweet, sweet pretzel after a long stretch of Atkins.