Sunday, June 30, 2019

Quantum Dragon Breathes Fire into Bradbury Classic

Fahrenheit 451


Dorian Lockett as Beatty Photo: Morgan Finley King

By Ray Bradbury

Directed by Sam Tillis

Quantum Dragon Theatre
Potrero Stage / 1695 18th St, San Francisco

Until July 7, 2019

By Christine Okon

In 1953, Ray Bradbury wrote the novel Fahrenheit 451 to first lament McCarthy-era suppression of free thought and later to sound the alarm about mass media’s threat to reading literature. Although Marshall McLuhan called television “medium cool,” Bradbury’s story reveals how easily everything that defines a person--and society--can go up in flames. It’s especially relevant today in a global digital world that displaces discourse with sound bites, soul searching for quick Google results, and logic with Twitter rants. Does anyone have time to think?

Quantum Dragon Theater (one of four theaters in the country dedicated to science fiction and fantasy theater) brings a tight, intense and profoundly moving production of "Fahrenheit 451" to the Potrero Stage. Sam Tillis directs a wonderful ensemble cast in Ray Bradbury's own adaptation of his novel, with the ending inspired by Francois Truffaut’s 1966 film version.

In the distant future, the act of reading books threatens government control and is therefore a punishable crime. To enforce the law, firemen are dispatched as needed to destroy books by starting fires. Don’t like a particular point of view? Burn the book. Upset by the emotions stirred by reading? Burn the book. Why not make it easy and burn every book? (Substitute “burn the book” with “block or delete” to see how it relates to digital life.)

Guy Montag is a fireman not quite happy with his job, or his life for that matter. Ron Chapman gives us a Montag who is a somewhat confused dreamer who drifted into his occupation without thought and is just now realizing how it consumes him. He’s challenged and intrigued by his bright and questioning neighbor Clarisse (Emily Dwyer) who has the fierce cunning of a French Resistance fighter. His mind sparked by curiosity, Montag goes home to see his wife Mildred (Emily Corbo) once again asleep on the couch; even when awake, she can communicate only in terms of meaningless TV shows and drugs. He begins to realize that something is wrong with this picture, and thus begins a shift in his blind compliance to authority.

Emily Corbo and Ron Chapman Photo: Morgan Finley King

As Fire Captain Beatty, Dorian Lockett brings us a remarkable, sardonic character who heightens ordinary discourse with literary allusions that fly over the heads of his underlings (Melanie Marshall, James Aaron Oh). Like many people, he had long ago taken the job of fireman as a matter of survival only to become engulfed in the dangerous mediocrity of its responsibility. Lockett delivers an amazing 13-page monolog to paint the story of a man who revered books before he was forced to forsake discovery for destruction, details over headlines, and prattle over discussion. He is a man in despair.

Melanie Marshall, James Aaron Oh, Dorian Lockett Photo: Morgan Finley King

Beatty smokes a pipe that emits the sweet scent of a glowing fireplace, adding olfactory enhancement to the experience. Smells are suggested in other scenes, as when an elderly woman (Annette Oliveira) presses her nose into a book as if it were a baby’s belly, or when Montag describes the rich odor of kerosene. Strategic lighting to suggest fire and screaming alarms add to the multi-sensory drama.

Montag begins to revere books as sacred objects when he realizes they are written by individuals. He moves away from his soul-killing work toward self-discovery with the help of old Professor Faber (Annette Oliveira) who quotes lines from books to Montag via a tiny earpiece. Montag’s resolve is rewarded when he encounters a renegade tribe of book-lovers who have memorized the works of Dickens, Melville, Dostoevsky and others to protect them via oral tradition, not unlike the origins of language itself.  Montag realizes he is home at last as he is welcomed by these guardians of literature, and there is a feeling of hope in the embers.

After turning off my phone before the play began, I was in no hurry to turn it on again when the play ended. There was just so much to think about, and the digital realm could wait.

"Fahrenheit 451" by Ray Bradbury, directed by Sam Tillis of Quantum Dragon Theatre at The Potrero Stage, San Francisco, through Sunday, July 7, 2019. Info: quantumdragon.org

CAST
Beatty...Dorian Lockett*
Montag...Ron Chapman
Mildred...Emily Corbo
Clarisse...Emily Dwyer
Black/First Paramedic/Helen...Melanie Marshall
Holden/Second Paramedic/Alice...James Aaron Oh
Hudson/Faber...Annette Oliveira
Aristotle...Crystal Why
Tolkien...Lucianne Colón
Dostoevsky...Christine Sheppard
Saint-Exupéry...Willow Mae
Carroll...Jacinta Sutphin
Plato...Omar Osoria-Peña
Melville...Ray Dequina
Stevenson...Abe Bernstein
*Appears with the special permission of Actors' Equity Association.

PRODUCTION TEAM
Director...Sam Tillis
Stage Manager…Annie Tillis
Set Design...Katie Whitcraft
Master Builder…Karl Haller
Lighting Design...Sara Saavedra
Sound Design…Larry Tasse
Costume Design...Marisely Cortes & Emily Dwyer
Properties Design...Miles Callan
Projection Design...Colin Johnson
Poster Design...Marisa Darabi
Promotional Photography…Morgan Finley King



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