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Staging His 'World' : Ray Bradbury Returns to His First Love, the Theater

August 19, 1995|CHRIS RIEMENSCHNEIDER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ray Bradbury turns 75 on Tuesday and is still talking about the future. That always has been his best subject.

The legendary science-fiction author isn't just concerned with the future of technology and mankind, however, subjects of his widely read classics "The Martian Chronicles" and "Fahrenheit 451." He also is talking about all that's to come in his own life--leaving out what might seem an essential detail: retirement.

That's just not in the books for him.

"I've never really worked, so what's to retire from?" Bradbury asks with a huge grin.

He has finished three screenplays already this year, in addition to the few other things he's working on--a book, short stories, one-act plays, a musical and even an opera. Then there are the science-fiction conventions he's always attending and the library and literacy benefits, including one Tuesday for the Thousand Oaks Library at the Thousand Oaks Performing Arts Center that will also serve as a birthday party.

At a recent interview, though, Bradbury was preoccupied by "The World of Ray Bradbury," a world premiere production of seven one-act plays and adapted short stories that opens tonight at the Colony Studio Theatre in Silver Lake.

Sitting in the theater's lobby amid Martian masks, futuristic space helmets and mannequins that will double as dead bodies, Bradbury seems at home. It's not just the odd and fantastic setting the props create, it's the small 99-seat theater, which has produced runs of Bradbury's "Fahrenheit 451" and "Dandelion Wine," plus a wildly successful version of "The Martian Chronicles" in 1977.

Although dozens of other theaters have produced Bradbury's works on stage--including much larger, grander ones--he says this theater suits him just fine. The less-than-fancy space has little to offer in the way of sets, lighting or a sound system, leaving much to the imagination.

That, of course, is the idea.

"What I love about this theater and small theaters like it is that you are on Mars," Bradbury says. "You're right there with the characters and you can see what they're feeling, and you can feel what they're feeling. I'd like to think that in my work, that's important."

Most people know of Ray Bradbury the published writer; they don't always know Ray Bradbury the playwright. But theater was actually Bradbury's first step into the arts, having started in musicals and plays in high school. Not satisfied with just acting in them, he began writing the plays and soon traded the stage for the typewriter, which of course fueled his famed career as a short-story writer.

But he always kept his love for the stage and continues to write for it. Being a playwright, he explains, has certain rewards that other writing doesn't offer.

"I love the immediacy of it," he says. "Having flesh-and-blood actors act out characters you've had in your head for years is incredibly rewarding.

"And there's the family feeling of it. When you're writing a short story, it's just you and a typewriter, which is fine because your characters are there with you. But when you're around these people that are sharing the love for the work, it's great. When there's a triumph, the whole family is there to share it with you."

Bradbury's experiences with theater haven't always made him feel this way, though. Failed attempts at being a playwright early on in his career discouraged him from pursuing it for many years. Even a 1990 production at the Pasadena Playhouse of his musical "Dandelion Wine"--featuring a score by Jose Feliciano--left him frustrated.

Bradbury says that although he loved the score and many of the performances in the Pasadena production, too many people involved with it were worried about trying to take the musical to Broadway, which didn't happen.

"Who cares about going to Broadway?" he says. "Nothing against New Yorkers, but there's just as many theater lovers here in Los Angeles."

The selections for "The World of Ray Bradbury" were a collaboration between Bradbury and the show's director, Michael David Wadler, but Bradbury wrote the scripts. The selections include the "The Book People," which is a scene from "Fahrenheit 451," "The Veldt," "Pillar of Fire," "Kaleidoscope," "To the Chicago Abyss," "Third Landing" (from "The Martian Chronicles") and, for the first time on stage, "The Foghorn."

The production, Wadler says, hopes to capitalize on Bradbury's preference for writing short.

"We kept asking Ray for another full-length play to put on," Wadler says. "And one day when we were bugging him about it, he says, 'You know, I'm more a sprinter than a runner.' And it suddenly made sense--Ray writes short pieces. So we went through all these short plays of his that seemed to kind of want to fit together and chose the seven from there. . . . They're great stories, and we're going to have fun with them."

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