Return to the Zone

The Blue Room again offers a classic Twilight Zone

PICTURE IF YOU WILL <br>Director Craig Blamer suggests some clearly humorous blocking to actors Eric San Filippo (left) and Jocelyn Stringer (right).

Director Craig Blamer suggests some clearly humorous blocking to actors Eric San Filippo (left) and Jocelyn Stringer (right).

Photo by Tom Angel

Submitted for your consideration … a small group of talented actors and their genre-obsessed director … next stop, The Twilight Zone.

For about six years now, The Blue Room Theatre has offered late-night audiences wild and wacky interpretations of classic The Twilight Zone episodes. The CBS television series was the original brainchild of the late Rod Serling and dealt with average human beings thrust into more than extraordinary situations. They—and we—were often thrust into the fantastic. Craig Blamer, local writer, actor and director, spoke recently with the CN&R about his upcoming late-night Blue Room production of a classic Zone episode. We ask him how the late-night Zones at The Blue Room came about.

About six years ago, Dylan Hillerman and some other “Roomers” saw a production of a Twilight Zone episode in Portland, Ore. “They liked the idea,” Blamer says, “brought it down, a bunch of us got together and did that Chico thang where you sit around, get drunk and watch episodes of The Twilight Zone all night, and go ‘Yeah, that one would be good; nah, that one’s sorta stupid; that one’s hard to do on stage; that one would rock!'”

Almost immediately the live renditions became crowd pleasers.

“You’d get two episodes of the old Twilight Zone, drink beer for an hour and a half, and yell at the actors on stage—almost a Rocky Horror Picture Show environment,” says Blamer. The crowds began picking favorite actors. “They’d cheer—the guy would have to stand there for about a minute, waiting for the audience to shut up so he could deliver his first line. And it just became a sort of tradition.”

And can that be Samantha Perry hanging out as Rod Serling?

Photo by Tom Angel

He points out that there’s more to it than simply the fun generated by resurrecting a television classic: the late-night Twilight Zones are training grounds for new actors.

“You’d do a handful of Zones and then get cast in a main-stage production. Next thing you know, you’re a Chico cultural icon, ‘the best actor in Chico!’ All this from doing some schlocky late-night. It’s a great venue to cut your teeth, if you’re a starting actor. There’s no mercy! It’s not exactly guerrilla theater. But it’s as close as you can get within a regimented stage area.

“What we’re doing now is ‘Nick of Time.’ That was a Richard Matheson episode. Matheson’s most popular one would be the William Shatner one, ‘Nightmare at Twenty Thousand Feet.’ It’s an episode you mention and everyone says ‘Oh yeah, that was great!’ ‘Nick of Time,’ ironically enough, is another Shatner episode.”

In this Matheson teleplay, Shatner played a newly married accountant on his honeymoon when the couple’s car breaks down somewhere in Ohio. “Being from Ohio, it’s not a pleasant thing to have happen to you,” quips Blamer. With a few hours to kill, the couple goes to a diner where the superstitious accountant begins to occupy himself with a fortune-telling machine. “The thing is,” adds Blamer, the machine’s answers “seem to tie in with what he’s asked for, without fail. It’s a recurring Twilight Zone motif—the obsessed man.”

Who’s in the cast?

“We have Jocelyn Stringer, who does quite a bit of theater, both at Chico State and the Blue Room. She’s always rocked. She plays the wife. I’m dragging Eric San Filippo into this. He’s done theater before but not in Chico. I think he’s going to be really good [in the obsessed husband/Shatner role].” Rounding out the cast are actor John Lighty and Blue Room vet Betty Burns. “She took a Chico vacation for a while but now she’s back,” says Blamer. “I don’t want to give anything away, but hers is a deceptive role.”

With the usual comic commercials and a good cast (Samantha Perry playing Rod Serling!), it appears as if The Blue Room could well have another late-night hit on its hands.