THE BASICS: FARENHEIT 451, Ray Bradbury’s 1953 novel adapted for the stage in 1979 by the novelist himself, presented by Subversive Theatre, directed by Gary Earl Ross and Michael Doben, opened on September 6 and runs through October 6, Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 at The Manny Fried Playhouse, 255 Great Arrow Avenue on the third floor (elevator service provided) (462-5549). www.subversivetheatre. This, their 16th season, is dedicated to the memory of Michael Lodick.
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: FAHRENHEIT 451, based on the anti-authoritarian novel by Ray Bradbury, takes its name from the temperature at which books burn. In this dystopian future, “Firemen” do not put out fires, they start them in order to burn books which, since they contain ideas, are the enemy of the state (“enemy of the people?”). In this future, the state keeps track of everyone through bio-information such as hand prints, facial recognition, and even scent used by a six-legged robotic dog dubbed “The Hound” which tracks down miscreants who read books. One fireman, Guy Montag, knows there must be more to life than sound bites and manipulated experiences, and sets out, at great personal risk, to find out if the answers he seeks can be found in books.
THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: This show features solid performances from Rick Lattimer as the unhappy fireman “Guy Montag,” his creepily omniscient boss, John Profeta (winner of last year’s Artie Award for Outstanding Actor in Subversive’s production of HOW I LEARNED TO DRIVE), Jamie Nablo as Guy’s confused and unhappy wife Mildred, and Colleen Pine as the attractive and bookish Clarisse.
Rounding out the cast are Jack Agugliaro, Brooke Goergen, Brendan Didio, Shelby Converse, Rachel Buchanan, and Deborah Krygier with video appearances by Brendan Cunningham.
Kudos to some who work behind the scenes. Bob Van Valin designed the sound and the video which was especially well done when we see actor Brendan Cunningham as the host of a seemingly interactive television program where citizens, in their homes, appear to be part of a “tell-all” program (think Jerry Springer or Oprah) and they love the manipulated “personal” attention. It’s like VR without the clunky headsets. This was very well presented, with solid timing between the video and live action.
And a big “thank you” to Set Designer Steve Harter, Stage Manager and Assistant Andrew McLaughlin and Ella Colbus, and Props Mistress Molly Farber for very quick scene changes. Because of the limited space, scene changes at Subversive can be rather drawn out affairs, but not here.
However, that brings me to my big complaint. There are just too damn many scene changes in this play. As clever as the set is, as well rehearsed as the cast may be moving boxes and tables, it’s all too much. Ray Bradbury was a great novelist, but he wasn’t a playwright. Furthermore, as we read in the program: “The great French cinema visionary Francois Truffaut adapted Bradbury’s novel in an iconic futuristic film in 1966. Inspired by Truffaut’s film, Bradbury developed this stage adaption himself in 1979 incorporating some of Truffaut’s twists on his original work.”
So, he didn’t adapt his novel for the stage. He adapted a movie. Movies come alive with scene changes as the camera’s POV constantly changes. In one long day of shooting you’ll probably only get 5 minutes on screen. Adapting a movie to the stage means giving up a lot of scenes. Or, at least it should.
So, while it might seem wonderful that the man himself adapted his own novel for the stage, there’s a reason why that doesn’t happen very often. It’s the same reason that novelists are rarely the screen writers when Hollywood options a novel. Each genre – novels, plays, musicals, movies – requires completely different mind sets and skill sets.
This is a very timely production about a population that not only doesn’t read, it doesn’t think.
That complaint aside, this is a very timely production about a population that not only doesn’t read, it doesn’t think. Most people form their opinions from sound bites, headlines, 240-character Tweets, or internet memes. And, while a recent trip to the grocery store reveals that books are still being published, they seem to be mostly romance novels. While magazines fill the racks, they are mostly special interest magazines appealing to their subscribers’ narrow tastes and are only glossy covered echo chambers. And what’s happening to newspapers? Reporters are being let go, papers such as the Buffalo News are thinner, and some cities are going with just weekend editions. While “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of … the press” that doesn’t apply to our President who declares that the press is “the enemy of the people” and then slaps a 25% tariff on imported news print. A recent Subversive play IT CAN’T HAPPEN HERE dealt with this free press topic, and this year’s FARENHEIT 451 continues the conversation.
Thought: Whether they stick around more after graduating than BFA students from other college acting programs such as at UB and Buff State (where many of the students return to their homes in the NYC area), or whether they just remember to mention their college more in their program bios, Niagara University is well represented here by at least four actors: Rachael Buchanan (who was in NU’s stellar production of THE HOUSE OF BERNARDA ALBA), Brendan Didio (recently seen at TOY and SIDP) Jamie Nablo (seen on just about every stage in town), and Colleen Pine (recently seen at TOY and Alleyway). I’m glad that the tradition of NU students going on to local careers continues.
CAVEATS: This play, in a smallish theater, includes plenty of stage smoke and flashing lights, which might bother some patrons. Also, bring water and dress lightly as it can get very warm inside the theater. Very warm.
UP NEXT: The 11th installment in Subversive’s “Workers’ Power Play Series” MOTHER JONES IN HEAVEN AND HELL, a musical by Si Kahn, runs from October 25 through November 17.
*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)
ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.
TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.
THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.
FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.
FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!