Theater Review / Short attention span theater: A terrific trip to The Twilight Zone

By Joanna Brady

The theme music from The Twilight Zone still haunts me after watching the hilarious short plays from the Red Barn Theatre’s latest production. Be prepared for traveling to the eerie world of the sixth dimension, giggling through the trip.

For a few years now, the Red Barn Theater has served up a crazy, zany salad of preposterous situations and kooky dialogue for fun and laughs on the Barn’s Key West stage under the rubric “Short Atttention Span.” This year they’ve chosen The Twilight Zone as their theme.

The short riff of music that introduced and became the theme from Rod Serling’s series The Twilight Zone when it debuted sixty years ago, is the introduction to seven one act plays  by a stellar group of amazing local and New York actors including Amber McDonald Good, Susannah Wells, Don Bearden, Andrew Hodge, and Jeremy Zoma. 

Much credit for this extravaganza of brevity goes to the remarkable McDonald family, the backbone of the Red Barn Theater since its inception. The whole dang family is involved in this one, Gary McDonald, his wife Mimi, and kids—son Jack, and daughter Amber produce and direct the show. And the latter is part of the cast. A great way to celebrate the Barn’s 40th anniversary season.

The choice of plays in this production was spot on. The opener was by Rod Serling himself (adapted). The other writers, including Tennessee Williams and much acclaimed mystery writer Nina Mansfield, all have that rare gift of expressing a tsunami of meaning in just a few words.

“We chose The Twilight Zone for our Short Attention Span production this year because it was so much in tune with Key West: quirky, fun, and unusual—offbeat,” said Mimi McDonald, who directed three of the plays. (In her ‘spare’ time, she is also the Producing Managing Director of the theater.)

What has emerged from this impressive blending of talent is a pot pourri of plays that are eerie, magical, bizarre, and hilarious, keeping the audience roaring with laughter throughout. 

“Every play took us to another zone,” said director Gary McDonald. Actors are put into weird situations that we automatically accept because we expect that weirdness to emerge quickly. Then we wait for the twist. The dialogues are tight, succinct, and snappy, with a zinger ending. The writing in all of them is phenomenal and the acting is alive with static electricity.

After the opening piece that sets the Twilight Zone tone, a manic play involving a young couple following the book on child care stars Amber McDonald and Andrew Hodge with some disembodied voices. This play, which involves a baby monitor, is one of the funniest of the production.

“Time Flies” by David Ives, also had the audience roaring with laughter. It starred Jeremy Zoma and Susannah Wells, and involved two May flies and a disembodied voice, purported to be that of David Attenborough, commenting on life in a swamp. 

Jeremy Zoma and Andrew Hodge perform in “The Forgotten Place,” in a rapid, mind-blowing interview for a best friend. It’s full of over-the-top humor filled with twilight zone patter that tickles the funny bone. 

But these are just a few examples of what to expect. There are seven in all. The ever-funny Don Bearden rounds out the cast, appearing in a few of the skits and voice overs.

What is particularly extraordinary about all the performances is that the whole production was put together in just thirteen days. Yet, it is as slick and professional as work taking months to prepare for. A credit to the experience and talent of the principals.

Short attention span theater is for people who like their stories cerebral, witty and pithy, with sustained laugher and fun or eccentric endings—connoisseurs of good humor who prefers a good short story to wading through a novel by Proust or Tolstoy.

For a look at life’s strange and weird ways, be sure to take in this production. You’ll come out laughing . . . and humming the theme of ‘The Twilight Zone.” Don’t miss this one!

Short Attention Span runs from Feb. 18 through March 14. All performances begin at 8 p.m.  Red Barn is located at 319 Duval (Rear) in Key West. Tickets available online at redbarntheatre.com  or call (305) 296-9911. 

(Joanna Brady is a local writer, author of the historical Key West novel, The Woman at the Light, published by St. Martin’s Press)