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A CurtainUp Review

It was a pleasure to burn… --- Guy Montag

The Godlight Theater Company has carved out a niche in the New York theater world: Producing difficult, resonant works that offer stealth commentary about the human condition. Frequently they adapt from the best. Last year I found their interpretation of Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange to be timely. This spring's mounting of Ray Bradbury's Farhrenheit 451 (first a novel in 1953; then adapted by Bradbury in the late '70s) is likewise of the moment, overlapping with both the third anniversary of the War in Iraq and a growing movement to censure Mr. Bush over his use of domestic spying.

Like Clockwork, the production is spare. Mounted in the same black box of a theater at 59E59, its low-tech approach places the focus squarely on its actors and the text. While Bradbury's novel was set in the future, director Joe Tantalo has cunningly decided that we have already achieved Bradbury's vision. The collusion of mass culture, technology and government control is manifest. It's just a matter of putting together the backstory.

For those unfamiliar, Fahrenheit 451 refers to the temperature required for the printed page to be consumed. In Bradbury's world, the history of firefighting -- from Ben Franklin onward -- has been rewritten. Rather than putting out fires, they start them. Instead of one day eradicating class difference through civil discourse, the government has destroyed the Great Works of literature, thereby dumbing down the entire population even as a War continues on in the distance and F16s clutter the night sky.

451 opens with Guy Montag in the eye of a fire and tracks him as Clarisse, an uncensored wisp of a girl, opens his mind and makes him conscious of his own Pavlovian behavior and that of those around him. Without the armor of his firefighting suit he appears frail. And his awakening is his death warrant.

Montag's wife Mildred, exemplifies the masses. She is consumed by consumption. Wanting husband Guy to buy her a "fourth television wall" so that she can fully interact with her "family" -- a not too far off iteration of reality television. She rejects anything demanding introspection and is even in denial of her own suicide attempt. It's unsurprising then, that Mildred ultimately turns in her own husband after he shows her a book he's liberated from a fire. Any love they once had for one another has been replaced by fear.

The leads are solid. Gregory Konow as Captain Beatty is a standout, with his monologue the highlight of the evening. Teal Wicks does well as the play's ingénue, while Ken King gives us a soulful Montag. That said, the casting of Mike Roche as Faber was a disconnect for me. Perhaps his affect was mean to be flat, but his performance took me out of the play.

While this production doesn't succeed as well as Clockwork, it is a worthwhile satire of how we live now. Given how little the average citizen reads, how maxed out our credit cards are, we have made ourselves vulnerable for wholesale cultural genocide. Yes, that's a loaded phrase, but one can easily recognize the anti-intellectualism portrayed in 451 as that which pervades our own society. It's difficult to shrug off 451 as simply as sci-fi parable instead of a call to arms.

To read the review of Godlight's Clockwork Orange go here.

Playwright: Ray Bradbury'
Directed by Joe Tantalo.
Cast: Ken King as Guy Montag; Gregory Konow as Fire Captain Beatty. Also Featuring: Gracy Kaye, Cyrus Roxas, Kristen Rozanski, Mike Roche, Sam Whitten, David Bartlett, Katherine Boynton, Jessica Rider, and Teal Wicks as Clarisse
Set & Lighting: Maruti Evans
Sound & Music: Andrew Recinos
Choreography: HaChi Yu; fight direction, Josh Renfree
Running time: 100 minutes without an intermission
Godlight Theatre Company at 59E59, 212-279-4200
From 3/16/06 to 4/23/06; opening 3/21/06
Tue to Sat at 8:30pm; Sun at 7:30pm
Tickets: $25 general seating
Reviewed by Jerry Weinstein based on March 18th press performance
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