Originally published in 1965, Autumn People was a lesser-known collection of Ray Bradbury's works. This production consists of two short stories from that collection: Pillar of Fire and Touched With Fire. One would think that with all that fire there would be sparks, but the best performance of the evening came from Bradbury himself, during an engaging speech, recounting his career and his love for the stage. Ironically, he mentioned how he started out in community theatre; it is unfortunate his newest endeavor could not rise above that status.
Pillar of Fire is Bradbury's Night of the Living Dead of the future. Lantry, the last surviving cryogenically stored man, is awakened 300 years in the future and decides to bring death and fear back into a peaceful, fearless society. Simon Russell, as Lantry, has the task of trying to make sense of everything along with the audience, but we never know who Lantry is or why he does what he does — nor do we care. Russell is surrounded by shrieking, monotone performances, which could have been a bold directorial choice if it wasn't so strident.
The second piece, Touched With Fire, starts out promisingly, with Michael Morrison and Jay Gerber as two retirees passing time during a heat wave, attempting to prove the theory that humans become violent at 92 degrees. Obviously seasoned actors, Morrison and Gerber unfortunately lose their way on a claustrophobic set and with bewildering direction that deflates any momentum the piece might have had. Dale Manolakas as Mrs. Shrike, the subject of the men's experiment, shrieks across the stage with little subtlety.
Bradbury remains an admirable storyteller; too bad this production was not a better representation of his talent.
Presented by Ray Bradbury's Pandemonium Theatre Company at the Fremont Center Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave., South Pasadena. Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 3 p.m. Sep. 30-Nov. 19. (323) 960-4451.