Two Much by Trying to Adapt "2 Wells Works into One Production, the Directors May Have Bitten off More Than They - or We - Can Chew

Article excerpt

Byline: Jack Helbig Daily Herald Correspondent

"Scientific Romances: H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds and The Invisible Man"

- Mini-review: One Wells story might have been great, but two are too much of a good thing

- Location: Next Theatre, 927 Noyes, Evanston

- Times: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 3 p.m. Sundays; 5 and 9 p.m. Oct. 10. Closes Oct. 10

- Parking: Free

- Tickets: $18-$22

- Box office: (847) 475-1875

H.G. Wells - novelist, historian, social critic and freelance intellectual - was an extremely prolific writer best known today for a series of stories he wrote at the turn of the century: "The First Men in the Moon," "The Time Machine," "The Invisible Man" and "The War of the Worlds." He called them "scientific romances"; we call them science fiction, a genre Wells anticipated.

In these stories Wells, again like the best science fiction writers working today, attached his fascination with science to the plight of vivid, memorable characters. Even while fantasizing about time travel, Martian invaders and invisible men, Wells never lost sight of the fact that it's the characters and their sometimes petty adventures who carry the story.

Which may be why Steve Pickering and Charley Sherman were first attracted to the idea of adapting "The Invisible Man" and "The War of the Worlds," two of H.G. Wells' most famous tales. Pickering and Sherman have adapted far stranger stories for the stage, most notably Clive Barker's horror tales, "In the Flesh" and "Son of Celluloid." And last season they ventured into virtual reality with "Burning Chrome," based on the story by William Gibson.

The Wells adaptations might have been triumphs too if Pickering and Sherman had focused on one or the other, but in trying to tell both, Pickering and Sherman bite off more than they - or we - can chew.

Each story puts a group of average turn-of-the-century English people under the microscope and observes what they do when they face the extraordinary. This extreme close up makes for some fascinating storytelling.

By now there have been probably hundreds of movies about alien invasions, but "The War of the Worlds" remains riveting precisely because Wells is more concerned with his rather unremarkable protagonist, identified only as The Man, than he is with the more spectacular moments in the novel, such as the Martians reducing a crowd of humans to ashes, or releasing their horrifying three-legged killing machines.

To tell both of these stories at once, Pickering and Sherman cut back and forth between the two, as though following two plot lines of the same story. …