From the first scene to the last, Aquila Theatre’s riveting posthumous production of Ray Bradbury’s 1953 play, Fahrenheit 451 was superb; the best I have seen in casting, design, lighting and music (credits follow). Directed by Artistic Director Desiree Sanchez the play scored high marks for updating Bradbury’s themes of censorship and the battle of knowledge versus ignorance which still provoke us more than sixty years after it was first written.
If one recalls the story line of Mr. Bradbury’s 1950s science-fiction novel or several adaptations (film-1966; stage-1979; radio-1984) and can appreciate a few deviations here and there, this stellar production is immensely enjoyable even given the psychic discomfort its menacing tones of foreboding and disorientation may evoke. It is now 2014 and the futuristic life Mr. Bradbury wrote of is now at hand. But is it really? Few, if any, Americans would refute the dizzying pace of our competing forms of entertainment in electronic devices, television, radio, computers and movies, to name a few. Is it too much stimulation (input) and not enough time to process and act upon it (output) in meaningful, individuated ways that may entertain us but also serve society and mankind as a whole?
To be forewarned is to be forearmed: one should be prepared for parts that are bitterly satirical. Have special interest groups taken over as Mr. Bradbury opined they would in 1953? For example, agonist James Lavendar’s (Beatty) helter-skelter, biting monologue about minorities is expanded from the original play which only inferred racial overtones. Beatty challenges the protagonist Norman Murray (Montag) to ask him about minorities: the black, brown, yellow, Mormon, Catholic, Protestant, and Irish who have demolished this country. Beatty continues his rhetorical monologue saying what various factions (Blacks, Jews, Republicans, Democrats, women’s libbers, homosexuals, cat and dog lovers, doctors, lawyers, etc.) don’t like to which his retort is “Burn them!” (the books). No more government regulations, no dictums, and no truce on censorship. The desired result is that everybody’s mind (and behavior) is crushed down and made equal. “Don’t think,” Beatty shouts at Montag, saying, ‘Give them a sense of motion without moving; cram them full of facts to make them think they are thinking.’ Interestingly enough, for intellectuals, Beatty advocates their being shunned, not burned. Perhaps a bit of self-preservation is in consideration here.
Not to reveal the whole play, here are other themes that predominate: (1) firemen who have the duty of burning books thereby destroying knowledge and promoting ignorance in order to equalize the population and achieve sameness; (2) Harriet Barrow (Clarisse; Alice) an adolescent, represents innocence and reverent love for nature – a dichotomy since we are a nation obsessed with technology; (3) Lizzy Dive (Mrs. Hudson; Helen; 1st Paramedic) an older woman chooses to die rather than abandon her books, one of which is a Bible Montag steals from her; (4) Kali Hughes (Mildred) Montag’s vapid, insensitive wife who makes numerous attempts at suicide; an act now normalized by society; (5) a Mechanical Hound that the firemen built to track citizens who disobey the law against reading books and (6) Wayne Willinger (Faber; Black; 2nd Paramedic) an English professor who represents knowledge and to some extent controls Montag’s thinking. There are fine performances also by Wayne Willinger (Black) and Calder Shilling (Holden/Henley).
The marriage of costumed actors with music, light, sound and set design was like an orgasmic symphony; each contributing magnificently to the overall effect. The stage was never quiet or motionless; as props of long white fabric hung from ceiling to floor like draperies in the background. Peter Meineck’s lighting and Christopher Marc’s sound design were artfully engineered to make it appear as if burning flames were ravaging the books and homes of citizens.
I want to recognize the artists and other designers whose formal training and collective theater arts experience honed in New York and nationally, and in international arenas such as London, Holland, Germany, Canada, Bermuda, Scotland, and Greece: Clare Amos (Costume Designer); Kate Freer, IMA (Production Design); My Great Ghost (Composer); Ivy Flores (Set Design Consultant); Gillian Wolpert (Technical Director/Lighting Supervisor); Bob Rogers (Assistant Technical Director); NIN and Muse (Additional Music).
Running Time: Two and one-half hours, with one 15-minute intermission.
Fahrenheit 451 was performed for one night,only on January 19, 2014 at George Mason University’s Center for the Arts – 4373 Mason Pond Drive, in Fairfax, VA, but continues on a national tour. For future performances at The Center for the Arts, check their calendar of events.