Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The layers of the MET’s “One Flea Spare”

Emily Boresow as Morse
Photo by Rachael Jane

The setting for Naomi Wallace’s play, One Flea Spare, is London in 1665 during the flea-delivered, rat-transported, outbreak of bubonic plague that killed over 100,000 people in England: a disastrous prelude to the Great Fire of London in September of 1666. Four people quarantined in a house with a guard who ensures they stay indoors. A recipe for cabin fever in more ways than one.

Interesting how an American from Kentucky can bring such a dark period to life with her script. More interesting to me is how The Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre at 34th and Main transported me last night during a riveting emotional rehearsal. I’m still a bit unsettled. So what else is new?

To experience this play reminds me of taking a dare to dive off the highboard for the first time, to confront fear, to maintain eye contact and stare life squarely in a mirror. Each of the five characters possesses a story and they courageously share it. Each, damaged in some way, admits the damage. All have something beautiful and honest that swirls inside their being amid the unsavory mess we sometimes call regret. We all have things to regret, but these characters have character because they know what they regret. The actors took me to those dark and bright places with their courageous dives; height from the depth of their art form. Layers of it.

The psychological layers of meaning in this story have physical reflection in the architectural layers of beautiful costumes, many with layers of their own. There's also the architecture of this intimate atmospheric set, where you’ll sit in pews, either on the east or west side (there’s a compass on the stage floor), of the long stage below you, close to the actors, close to the odor of the vinegar, and the emotional spittle that flies sometimes. You may catch yourself glancing across the way to your fellow audience members. That’s an interesting set-up, interesting because great theater resides ultimately in the audience, inside you. More layers.

As audience members we bring our layers, our baggage, our costumes through the door. Like your many facets, this gem of a play appears to have elements for a multi-generational audience. I picture the high school student attending with her great grandmother connecting with the multi-generational cast. More layers. This play doesn’t need a set-up, or a preview, a historical tutorial, a connecting narrative to our time, pre-reading period diary pieces by Samuel Pepys. This play needs you, for you will bring so much and carry so much more home.

I dare you to see this play. Try not to avert your eyes. Experience quarantine in the magic box that is the MET.


One Flea Spare by Naomi Wallace opens January 6th and runs Thursdays through Sundays to January 23rd.
Directed by Karen Paisley

The Cast...
Jay Akin as Bunce
Emily Boresow as Morse.
Robert Gibby Brand as Mr. William Snelgrave
Scott Cordes as Kabe
Karen Paisley as Mrs. Darcy Snelgrave

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