The opening line of Ray Bradbury’s 1953 magnum opus, Fahrenheit 451 sets the mood for a dystopian society where firemen set fires and critical thinking is non-existent, and all “facts” are delivered to you through picture walls.
The great Science fiction writer Bradbury, who passed away in 2012, never liked being described as a science-fiction writer, yet so many of his works took a fantastical delve into this genre that it is hard to mention his name without thinking of science-fiction.
The stage version of Fahrenheit 451, Bradbury’s own adaptation of his novel, was presented at the gorgeous Hylton Performing Arts Center on Saturday, October 5, 2013, as part of the Aquila Theatre’s national tour (along with their production of Twelfth Night). Under the direction of Aquila’s Artistic Director Desiree Sanchez, the international cast beautifully delved into this work with a flowing and almost fiery motion that Director Sanchez orchestrated, while using a beautiful backdrop of strips of white scrim that was utilized as a projection screen and created a tight environment for the company of seven to work in.
The overall production elements of the piece were effective, particularly with the lighting design by Aquila founder, Peter Meineck. Projection Designer Kate Freer did a remarkable job with the ever-changing projections that tended to get a bit lost in the scrim. The actors were not mic’ed in the first act and they were very difficult to hear at times, but this problem was rectified in the second act. The balance between the sound effects and the offstage voices were over-amplified making the unmic’ed actors in the beginning seem distant and at times having to shout their dialogue.
The small ensemble was led by Irish actor Norman Murray as protagonist Guy Montag, and delivered an impressive performance. The relationship Montag has with the two women in his life, 17-year old Clarisse, played with a youthful exuberance by the feisty Harriet Barrow, and Montag’s pill-popping wife, the maniacally wonderful Kali Hughes, was the highlight of the show.
Bradbury, in his adaptation, changed the ending slightly to better serve a live production, and presumably to match the ending of the 1966 Julie Christie/Oskar Werner film version. The one issue with the play is that those who never read the book might feel lost at times, as Bradbury’s adaptation tends to assume that you know the book. Aquila Theatre tried to rectify some of this with the projection design and the tableaus created between scenes, and for the most part they were successful. One of the great ironies of the book is that you are reading a book about not being allowed to read, so, at times, the overall theme of the book is hard to translate to the stage.
Aquila Theatre is just beginning their tour of this work, and as the tour progresses, some of the technical aspects will work itself out and the cast will get more comfortable with the material, making the show a more solid piece of theater. I do applaud the cast and creative team for reintroducing audiences around the country to one of the great American novels by a truly gifted writer.
Running time: Two hours and fifteen minutes, with a fifteen intermission.
Fahrenheit 451 is playing a US tour and will return to George Mason Center for the Arts on January 19, 2014. Tickets for that performance are available online.