Fahrenheit 451, an adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s famous book about a dystopian society in which its population lives in alienation, is a social commentary with a message which is as pertinent in the present day as when it was written in 1953. With Europe and the rest of the world rebuilding from the ruins of WWII, technological advancements moving ahead at an alarming rate, and a population living more and more in a state of isolation, the stage was set for Bradbury’s signature book.
For those of us who remember Fahrenheit 451 when it was required reading, you’ll find this play reviving buried images, as the performance will bring back memories from the days of the lingering Cold War. With the demise of the Soviet Union the Cold War has long since thawed, the Iron Curtain has been drawn back, and an entire generation has grown up without the Berlin Wall. As we watch events in Eastern Europe unfolding, many of us see history repeating itself as the Iron Curtain now begins to unfurl down on Eastern Europe once again.
In Bradbury’s fictitious world firemen, men who do not put out fires but burn books, are doing just that at a feverish pace in order to keep the world’s population in the dark regarding history. Much like the underlying theme of George Orwell’s 1984, Bradbury’s world is in a perpetual state of war. In order to keep the populace in the dark regarding current events, three page versions of books which make dime store romance novels seem like War and Peace in comparison, are the only avenue of intellectual pursuit for the masses.
Guy Montag, the play’s protagonist and a fireman, lives in a world that is shrouded in a dark cloud. Mildred, Guy’s stay at home wife, spends her days viewing interactive soap operas in a living room with giant screens covering three of the four walls. As the pointless daytime TV dramas amble on, Mildred waits for her opportunity to join the cast by reading interactive, but meaningless comments to her ‘family’. This mind numbing existence makes today’s world of bogus reality TV viewers seem enlightened in comparison.
One day as Guy is trudging through his work week, he encounters a woman standing in a pile of burning books, choosing a self-inflicted funeral pyre over life without her library. At this moment Guy begins to question his career choice, and embarks on an introspective journey as he is sucked into a malaise-filled black hole of depression. Coming home one day to find that his wife has overdosed on prescription drugs; Guy is flipped, and becomes one of the book people as he joins a secret society of bookworms.
At the time that it was written, these futuristic, dystopian societal issues seemed cryptic and bizarre. The story’s mundane theme is pale in comparison to the imagination of today’s movie writers who depict post-Armageddon, zombie societies, only make Bradbury’s simplicity seem more realistic and relevant than ever before.
I was impressed with the acting and stage presence of Chris Kelly (Guy Montag) and Laura Tighe, bringing to life a scene in which Guy confronts his wife Mildred after her overdose. Both Chris and Laura played this scene masterfully, making me feel like I had just walked into a household of a deteriorating family. Another stand-out scene took place when Guy went to Professor Faber, played by Gregg Gilbin, for guidance, only to find that the Professor considers himself to be anything but a hero, as he allowed society to get to the point that it had. The dialogue, as well as the acting, is worth the price of admission.
During an interview with Sam Wright, director and owner of the New Rose Theater, we discussed the fact that the play’s interpretation focused on the relevance to today’s society, emphasizing the parallels that the play stresses. The opioid crisis, reality TV shows, censorship, racism, war, and a host of other issues can all quickly and clearly be seen as the plot unravels. Wright said the biggest challenge that he faced in presenting this interpretation was being able to condense all of the concepts into one evening.
With the New Rose Theater going strong in its seventeenth year, Sam, along with the help of his stage managers Jean Clark and Janine Mickle, have assembled a great cast to present this live performance to the Hudson Valley. Energetic and motivated, Wright has put together a winning show for all of us to enjoy. For those who would spend time during the weekend at a movie, I suggest that for a few extra dollars try a live performance at The New Rose Theater.
By Matt Barbero