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Paulanne Simmons

Fahrenheit 451 Won't Light Any Fires

"Fahrenheit 451"
Directed by Joe Tantalo
Presented by The Godlight Theatre Company
59E59 Theaters
59 East 59th St.
Opened March 21, 2006
Tues.-Sat 8:30 p.m. & Sun. 7:30 p.m.
25 (212) 279-4200 or www.ticketcentral.com
Closes April 23, 2006
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons March 21, 2006

Since "Fahrenheit 451" was first published in 1953, Ray Bradbury's novel about a world where books are banned and burned (paper ignites at 4510 F) has become part of the canon dear to civil libertarians. Michael Moore paid homage to the novel in his 2004 film "Fahrenheit 9/11" about the wrongdoings of the Bush Administration. Now Godlight Theatre Company returns to the original story with Ray Bradbury's adaptation of Fahrenheit 451, directed by Joe Tantalo.

In the spirit of charity, it would be nice to find something positive to say about this noisy amateurish production. The best one can come up with is that with a revised script, better direction and competent actors, it might make an okay film.

What was Bradbury, who adapted sixty-five of his stories for television and won an Emmy for his teleplay of "The Halloween Tree," thinking of? Fahrenheit 451 is heavy with overblown rants and unbelievable dialogue. A multitude of scenes follow each other in a jumble of exits and entrances. The characters – the book-burning fireman Guy Montag (Ken King); his brain-dead wife, Mildred (Gracy Kaye); and Clarisse (Teal Wicks), the young woman who helps Montag see the light – are all cardboard figures clearly in service to an idea. In fact, Fahrenheit 451 is much more of a treatise than a drama.

But a bad script cannot totally account for this train wreck. Tantalo has augmented Bradbury's work with deafening sound effects and sweeping colored lights that put the stage in a perpetual otherworldly haze. He has his actors make their first appearance in the last stages of hysteria, leaving them no room for further development. Perhaps he was confusing sci-fi adventure films with serious drama.

Fahrenheit 451 is performed on a stage that is bare except for translucent screens placed in each of its four corners, which is fortunate because this black box theater at the 59E59 complex is much too small for the show. If everything else had been going well, the small size of the theater might have helped the production by evoking the claustrophobic atmosphere of Bradbury's dystopia. As it is, the cramped space, coupled with the length of the play (almost two hours) and the lack of an intermission, only increases the feeling of entrapment.

Certainly, Bradbury's indictment of censorship has never been more relevant than in these times of wiretapping, surveillance and manipulation of the media. But anyone interested in the message of Fahrenheit 451 should read the book.



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