All-star cast tells the story of Tesla in radio play



Thomas Edison, George Westinghouse, J. Pierpont Morgan and several other of history’s most influential will make appearances in the Laguna Playhouse production “Tesla: A Radio Play for the Stage.”

The play, which tells the inspirational yet controversial story of inventor and futurist Nikola Tesla, will be presented by an all-star cast for four shows from Friday, May 26 through Sunday, May 28. The cast includes actor French Stewart (NBC’s “3rd Rock From the Sun”) as the Serbian American inventor.

Written by “Pageant of the Masters” playwright Dan Duling, the radio play, which had its premiere at the Pasadena Playhouse in 2013 in proximity to Caltech and Jet Propulsion Laboratory, begins with Tesla’s death in 1943 and rolls into his life story that tells of his struggles and victories as a scientist in America.

Stewart, who also played Tesla in the premiere, said he was excited that the play was having an extended life in Laguna:

“We pulled all sorts of people in Pasadena and we are hoping that we will do the same in Laguna. You’re getting theater people and science nerds in one room; the group is very different,” said Stewart.

More than 50 different characters will be featured in the play, all performed by the Golden and Emmy Award-nominated actor Hal Linden (“Barney Miller”), Gregory Harrison (“Logan’s Run”), Dan Lauria (“The Wonder Years”), Charles Shaughnessy (“The Nanny”) and Stewart’s wife Vanessa Stewart, who co-wrote and starred in the Laguna Playhouse play “Louis and Keely: Live at the Sahara.”

“We’re all just a bunch of old dudes who have been banging around the industry for a long time, and it’s great to all cross paths again. I genuinely admire each and every one of them,” Stewart said. “It’s also really nice for me and my wife Vanessa to get to do something on stage together outside of L.A. with all of these wonderful people.”

The play is primarily an acoustic performance, with the actors reading directly from script, and a sound effects specialist making the noises associated with the actions, such as doors slamming and explosions in invention-making.

For visual purposes, the actors will be standing behind microphones with background projections of various images that show settings and photos of the 19th and 20th century historical figures. Several of Tesla’s inventions, including the Tesla coil, will also be on stage for the audience to see.

Tesla’s volatile relationship with Edison, his loyalty to Westinghouse and his quarrel with the power brokers of American business are narrated to tell the story of the inventor and futurist who did not receive the credit he deserved during his lifetime for his contributions in science and technology.

“What’s great about this play is you can see Tesla see the future in the past. He had this view of wireless energy 100 years ago, which is what we have today. So it’s really sort of neat to backtrack and see this epic mind working out this dream, and the audience are in on it because they know it works, but he can’t get money to make it happen,” said Stewart.

“Dan (Duling) wrote this great comment on this brilliant man, and this great comment on history and what value it would’ve brought to the lives of everyone back then. It would’ve changed everything.”

Lauria, who performed the play “Love Letters” with actress Wendie Malick at the Laguna Playhouse in February, said he hopes the radio play will encourage the audience to read and learn more about Tesla – and maybe continue his work.

“If we do our job right, maybe we’ll inspire. It’s like the play ‘Hamilton.’ The novel about Hamilton was a huge best-seller and then the play came, so it became a best-seller again because it inspired people to read,” said Lauria, “And there’s a lot there that Tesla was still working on when he died, and maybe someone will feel inspired to take the next step with his inventions.”