By Ellen Frankman; Photography by Michael Heller
If Ray Bradbury were to see our world today, and squirm and flinch at the eerily depressing prescience of his 1953 short story “The Murderer,” he may at least crack a smile to see a version of it performed on stage.
Tucker Marder and Christian Scheider are doing just that. Their adaptation of Bradbury’s “The Murderer” will be performed August 23 through August 25 at the Old Whalers Church in Sag Harbor.
Marder recalls bringing a copy of the short story to Scheider in late December of last year, insisting that he read it. “The Murderer” offers a bleak, darkly comic vision of a future “mauled and massaged and pounded” by the constant drone of technology and one in which humans are conveniently and perpetually “in touch.”
The fleeting narrative unfolds as the protagonist, an institutionalized prisoner, gleefully recounts to a psychiatrist a rash of murderous behavior that caused him to drown the radio, strangle the telephone and shoot the television, “that Medusa which freezes a billion people to stone every night.”
In their take on the short story, Marder and Scheider take Bradbury’s technological dystopia a step further.
“What we have now is a script that is 60 percent Tucker and Christian and 40 percent Bradbury,” said Marder, who directed, co-wrote and produced the play. As a counterpart to the psychiatrist and the Murderer, Marder and Scheider chose to create one single character that would embody all of technology, a guy in a silver robot suit who you may have seen dancing around town as of late.
“The robot could be this crispy, clean, sleek technological object but also be a sort of clown that embodies the absurdity of it all,” said Marder.
The idea to have robot flash mobs in anticipation of the performance began as a fun promotional technique that has since found greater significance within the broader discussion of the play.
“The robots are walking through the street and people say, ‘Who are you?’ and we say, ‘Technology,’” said Scheider, who co-wrote, produced and stars as the Murderer in the show. “They ask, ‘What are you doing here?’ and we say, ‘Technology is everywhere.’”
This debate over the role of technology in our lives extends the scopes of Bradbury’s original narrative, and is central to Marder and Scheider’s stage adaption. In pursuit of this dialogue, the two also created a more active psychiatrist, who is less of a sounding board for the tirade of the Murderer and more of a dynamic character with a deeper understanding of how much is too much when it comes to gadgets and computers and glowing blue devices.
“We wanted there to be a balance so that the audience says, ‘Wow, this is the kind of debate I have every morning when I wake up and roll over and decide whether or not checking my phone will be the first thing I do,’” said Scheider. “The idea that there is a choice is central to why we wanted to write this story.”
Because the cast and crew are young, they find themselves only better suited to encourage this debate.
“People our age have one foot in extreme technological emersion and one foot in the past where no one had cell phones or the Internet,” said Marder. “We have straddled both time periods.”
And though they may be young and somewhat new to the trials of writing, directing and producing a stage production, both Marder and Scheider agree that the outpouring of community support has been tremendous. The team collaborated with GeekHampton to create a set of recycled technology, and members of the Choral Society of the Hamptons and the Old Whalers Church Bell Choir will perform original music during the show.
Being permitted to use the Old Whalers Church as a performance space has also been a boon to the production and fitting with its message.
“There couldn’t be anything more analogue than live humans in a space together that was built in the 1800s,” said Marder.
In its weekend-long run, “The Murderer” aims to be more than an unsettling reminder that a science fiction story from five decades ago can and has become our reality. It is the hope of Marder and Scheider that their rendition of Bradbury’s prophetic narrative will spark an enlightening, or at the very least entertaining, dialogue over the extent to which we allow technology to infiltrate our lives.
“We are not questioning the technology itself,” he said. “We are questioning the heedless need to embrace it in all of its newest and brightest forms.”
“The Murderer” will be performed this Friday, August 23 through Sunday, August 25 at 8:30 p.m. at the Sag Harbor Old Whalers’ Church on Union Street in Sag Harbor. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased by phone at 680-7677 or via email at TheMurderer@TuckerMarder.com.