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Klaatu barada nikto!

Audio encounters at Lakewood Playhouse

The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), directed by Robert Wise. Courtesy photo

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This weekend, Lakewood Playhouse will host close encounters of the radio kind. For his ninth year in a row, James Venturini is directing a cast of vocal talents to perform, live on stage, a radio-drama-style program for Halloween. Venturini and his cast create live sound effects as well. This year's main offering, The Day the Earth Stood Still, was first adapted from a 1940 short story (Farewell to the Master, by Harry Bates) for a 1951 film directed by Robert Wise. Its enduring legacy is the instruction, "Gort, klaatu barada nikto," along with a still-relevant message about peace and understanding.

"We hadn't done a lot of science fiction," says Venturini, also the stage director of Lakewood Playhouse's recent production of Death of a Salesman. "That's always a good opportunity for weird sound effects. I was fortunate to notice that Lux Radio Theatre did a version of it in 1954, and it's a good script." David Phillips will play alien "invader" Klaatu, Nicole Lockett voices Helen Benson (famously played by Patricia Neal in the movie), and Ben Stahl portrays Helen's boyfriend, Tom Stephens. Stahl costarred in Tacoma Little Theater's production of The Underpants last month. Lockett and Phillips are frequent additions to Venturini's audio performances, as in last year's rendition of The Birds. This year's production is unusual in that it cast youth actors Jaxx Chadick and Evelyn Helt in key roles.

Of course, no radio drama would be complete without quaint advertisements. The original show was sponsored by Lux soap products, so several ads are built into the script. "They kind of intrude, frankly," says Venturini, laughing, "but that's cool. We'll add a couple of others to the first act." A highlight of that first hour will be a notorious episode of Lights Out." Venturini can barely contain his glee about it. "We're doing ‘Chicken Heart!' It was the subject of a Bill Cosby bit in the '60s - not that anyone listens to him anymore! So maybe we're reclaiming it. Like most Lights Out pieces, it's insane. A chicken heart gets loose and grows and grows in a laboratory until it takes over the world. (Longtime host) Arch Oboler was famously unsponsored, which is kind of why he got away with a lot of the crap he did."

The joy of attending live radio drama comes from a small cast perform numerous voices while eliciting a convincing, even larger-than-life soundscape via mundane objects. "It's really theater of the imagination," says Venturini. "All you get is the words, and everything else is in your head ... With the advent of podcasts, I think it's coming back." So grab a box of popcorn, lean back, perhaps even shut your eyes - as many audience members do - and get ready for some out-of-this-world audio magic.

Live Radio Show: The Day the Earth Stood Still, 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, Oct. 14-15, 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 16, Lakewood Playhouse, 5729 Lakewood Towne Center Blvd., Lakewood, $25, 253.588.0042,

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