Utter Hysteria

By Darcie J. Flansburg

Posted April 29, 2010 in Arts & Culture

Writer/Actor/Director Paul Jacques got the idea for his new play Mercury, Mars and Mayhem while working on a staged reading of Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds.

According to Jacques, one of the actors was flirting with some of the actresses in rehearsal and missing lines.

“I was saying to myself, ‘That could be a really bad habit if you were tuned in to the broadcast—you could really think this was real and get swept up in the mayhem,’” Jacques says. “I fleshed the idea out and started writing pages during one of my [Master of Fine Arts] workshops.”

Jacques’s play was chosen from submissions by playwrights and graduates of UC Riverside’s MFA program. The university’s Department of Theatre will feature the world premiere of Mercury, Mars and Mayhem May 6-15.

Though Jacques is an active director in the area, he is not directing this Mercury. UCR Professor and Department Chair Eric Barr has taken on the new piece, but Jacques has been able to sit in on every aspect of the process.

From workshop readings to production meetings to rehearsals, Jacques said the process has been invaluable as far as tweaking the script here and there to make it as polished as possible. “Act 2 is definitely the better for it,” he says.

And seeing his characters come to life has been “awesome” for Jacques.

“When you write, you deal with the so-called ‘voices in your head,’ and, no matter how many times a work gets readings, it’s something quite different to see actors on stage putting bodies to the voices, especially with the type of show it is,” Jacques says. “Being a farce, there’s a lot left out in readings. I got to sit in on a run through Friday night, and it was a truly beautiful thing to see all of the physicality brought to life.”

And the show is definitely in safe hands with Barr.

Barr teaches acting and directing classes at UCR and regularly directs for the UCR season. He is also artistic director of the Porthouse Theatre, a professional summer stock company in Cleveland, Ohio. Check out his weekly podcasts on acting at www.actingis.com.

“It is exciting to see new scripts and this is a wonderfully entertaining comedy by a local playwright,” Barr says. ”The show plays on the hysteria surrounding Orson Welles’ broadcast of The War of the Worlds and tells the story of a group of radio misfits trying to turn their mistaken response to the broadcast into gold.”

The cast includes Tiffanie Cheng, Adrian Centero, Dennis D’Antin, Kit Fugrad and Tamara Francis Kilcher. Many of the actors are transfers to UCR and have achieved awards such as the Chancellor’s Performance Award and the Bank of America Fine Arts Award.

According to Barr, this production is part of the UCR Theatre Department’s commitment to producing new works by students and former students. Playworks, presented in the last week of May, continues this commitment by presenting approximately 24 new scripts by graduate and undergraduate writers.

Mercury, Mars and Mayhem by Paul Jacques at ARTS Building – Studio Theatre (ARTS 113), UC Riverside, 900 University Ave., Riverside, (951) 827-4331, (951) 827-3245; theatre.ucr.edu. May 6-15. $14 general admission, $12 students/seniors. 


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