“Ray Bradbury Live (Forever)” is an exercise in rediscovering one’s love of dinosaurs, rocket ships and all the things that capture children’s hearts and minds before they lose their sense of wonder. Written and performed by Emmy-winner Bill Oberst Jr., the show is just as much a description of childlike imagination, as it is a demonstration of it.
Oberst plays legendary science fiction and horror writer Ray Bradbury, as well as some 15 characters in his novels and short stories. It’s not entirely a one-man show. Stacy Rabon joins the stage as Maggie McClure, Bradbury’s late wife, for a sentimental walk down memory lane. These stories serve as life lessons that Bradbury tries to instill within his audience. Included are the importance of keeping the mind in motion (“The Veldt”), the dangers of abandoning one’s loves and dreams (“A Sound of Thunder”), the pitfalls of lusting for life instead of actually living (“Something Wicked This Way Comes”) and the power of looking toward the horizon (“The Million Year Picnic”).
“Live (Forever)” is carried by Oberst’s unyielding enthusiasm. The three years he put into the script is evident from the beginning. No, his voice and mannerisms don’t match Bradbury exactly, nor would he be mistaken for the late writer on the street. But for the almost 90 minutes he occupies the stage, Oberst captures the spirit of the man and the worlds he invented.
Whether it's riding a bicycle onto the stage, waltzing with Maggie, cowering in fear in the face of an imaginary Tyrannosaurus, or traipsing about the floor as the famously sinister “Something Wicked” character Mr. Dark, Oberst throws himself into Bradbury and his characters with total sincerity.
Christopher Cooksey provides some psychedelic visuals for the show, reminiscent of early-’90s CGI music videos. It’s not “Avengers”-level graphics, but the old-school look added to the show’s flirtation with nostalgia. The backdrop for “Something Wicked” stood out in particular as it transformed from a warm library into a warped crimson nightmare, setting the mood for one of Bradbury’s most frightening works.
There were a few hiccups during the show. The inconsistent lighting often left Oberst in limbo between light and darkness for no discernible artistic reason. This was most evident when Oberst, playing the role of Mr. Dark, steps into the crowd to search for his victims in hiding. Instead of offering a glimpse of Mr. Dark’s wicked smile, the light rested somewhere between his chin and chest. The shoddy lighting subverted the tension and dread that Oberst — who is most known for his work in Hollywood playing horror movie villains — had built throughout the scene.
The sound levels were touch-and-go early on, and when Rabon came on stage. But even a few buzzes and cracks from their microphones couldn’t sully the chemistry Oberst and Rabon displayed as the elder married couple regaling in the love they had shared.
Despite setbacks, Oberst propels “Live (Forever)” onward and upward. He provides a thoughtful, poignant and honest look into the human condition. Call it a storybook version of Bradbury if you choose, but at that moment within the black box of Threshold Theatre, Bradbury’s stories were Oberst’s stories. Then they became our stories.
Reviewer Mike Zawisza is a Goldring arts journalist at Syracuse University.