“You’re traveling to another dimension,” Rod Serling used to warn viewers before each episode of The Twilight Zone. Who knew that dimension would one day turn up in the murky recesses of fringe theater? The Zone’s current digs are courtesy of Theater Schmeater, a Seattle-based performance ensemble whose ongoing late-night run, Twilight Zone: Live!, brings various episodes of the classic series to the stage in a humorously reverent rendition.
“The TV show was so stylized and so well written,” says Rob West, Shmeater’s artistic director. “The episodes are like tiny plays. You get a tight little arch in 24 minutes.”
And to prove there’s no need to tinker with genius, the folks at Schmeater give Serling’s original teleplays a spotless, word-for-word retelling. The troupe’s players, meanwhile, embrace the 1950s camp with all the ardent inflections the material calls for—whether it’s a horrified department store mannequin discovering her true identity or a stingy patriarch distraught over his daughter’s evil talking doll. As Serling, actor Ray Tagavilla delivers an uncanny facsimile of Zone’s always omniscient host, complete with Rod’s trademark choppy speech patterns and chain cigarette smoking.
Twilight Zone: Live! began 12 years ago when Schmeater founders Anthony Winkler and Doug Hunt acquired the rights from CBS to perform the episodes for their then-fledgling theater company. Since then the show has been a consistent late-night hit, luring in hordes of often tipsy theatergoers who bring a downright rowdy atmosphere to the venue. West attributes the show’s popularity to those same engaging elements found in the TV series—everything from its slick noir style to its assuming visions of the future. “Like how we’re all going to be in jet cars by the 1980s,” he says, laughing. “People love that stuff.”
Originally published in Emmy magazine, 2005