This is a dark ride
Something Wicked This Way Comes
Sacramento, CA 95816
A long-planned, necessary remodel puts Something Wicked This Way Comes, City Theatre’s first show of the season at the California Stage (85 seats to the Art Court Theatre’s 125 at Sacramento City College). Any worries about whether City Theatre’s audience could figure out the temporary change of venue were eased at last Friday’s opening. The show started a tad late because the ushers were squeezing in as many ticket buyers as possible. For the time being, arriving early or buying advance tickets might be a good idea with this group.
Part of the draw is that Something Wicked This Way Comes is most appropriately timed. The story is set in October, and it’s a creepy tale that leads into Halloween. Readers will recall fantasy writer Ray Bradbury’s 1962 novel of the same title, an oft-taught high-school English text in decades past. It’s a dark fantasy set in a small Midwestern town during the 1930s or early 1940s—basically, the time and place in which Bradbury was born.
The plot involves two impulsive, imaginative 13-year-old boys (is there any other kind at that age?). They are fascinated when a somewhat sinister traveling carnival slinks into town, since October is late in the calendar for such things. Even though they realize it’s not a good idea, the two boys check out the show’s freakish attractions. Soon they meet Mr. Dark, the carnival headman whose tattoos bear changing images. Scary consequences ensue as the boys realize that the carnival is a malevolent supernatural influence, preying on the townsfolk.
The language and imagery are vintage Bradbury, with lines like “The night was sweet with the dust of autumn leaves” alongside references to “the fine sands of ancient Egypt” and the scent of cotton candy, plus Shakespeare quotes (the play’s title come from Macbeth) and all-American visuals resembling Norman Rockwell illustrations. Bradbury’s an old-school book nerd, so the story’s climax naturally occurs in the town library. If the prose turns a bit purplish along the way, and the psychology behind the story is a bit obvious—well, Bradbury did cut his teeth as a writer producing fantastic fiction for pulp magazines in the 1940s. It’s actually rather charming—and simultaneously a bit antique.
Director LoriAnn DeLappe-Grondin uses a stark set and baleful lighting (Shawn Weinsheink), projected images (Stephen C. Jones), interesting costumes including some gauzy masks on zombielike carnival hands (Nicole Sivell), moody sound (Scott Bailey) and stage fog to create a scary scene.
The performances run the gamut, sometimes effective, other times slightly off mark. Caleb Salmon and Brandon Marques (as the 13-year-olds) display enthusiasm and energy, but seem more like college guys. George Sanford, as the 54-year-old librarian with midlife blues, is fairly credible, but sometimes hard to hear. Anthony Person (a lean, intense African-American) puts occult menace into Mr. Dark, as well as a racial angle. Catherine Nickerson, as a single schoolteacher, sums up her character quite nicely and also “gets small” rather convincingly after riding the age-altering carousel.
It’s certainly a good way to kick off the spooky season, even if it is a bit late for carnivals.