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Naomi Wallace’s OBIE Winner “One Flea Spare” Is a Haunting and Harrowing Halloween Treat for Adults

Eric Swenson as Bunce and Ros Schwartz as Morse in "One Flea Spare" (photo by Adam Graetz)

Eric Swenson as Bunce and Ros Schwartz as Morse in "One Flea Spare" (photo by Adam Graetz)

ArtsCenter Stage will present One Flea Spare, Kentucky-born playwright and screenwriter Naomi Wallace’s OBIE Award-winning play set in 17th century London at the time of the Great Plague of London (1665-66), on Oct. 14-16 and 21-23 in its Earl and Rhoda Wynn Theater. It is a haunting and harrowing Halloween treat for adults.

“This play deals with themes that are adult in nature,” cautions ArtsCenter Stage artistic director Jeri Lynn Schulke, who will produce and stage the show for the Carrboro, NC arts center. Schulke adds, “We are not encouraging anyone under 17 to attend. While there is no nudity, there are adult situations, which may not be appropriate for teens or those who are younger.”

One Flea Spare had its world premiere on Oct. 18, 1995 at the Bush Theatre in London, and made its American debut on Feb. 27, 1996 during the Humana Festival of New American Plays in Louisville, KY. The play opened Off-Broadway on March 9, 1997 at The Public Theatre, and won the 1996-97 OBIE Award for Best Play, plus the 1996 Fellowship of Southern Writers Drama Award, the 1996 Joseph Kesselring Prize, and the 1996 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize. Broadway Play Publishing, Inc. also selected Naomi Wallace as their 1997 Playwright of the Year.

“I attended the University of Iowa as an undergrad when Ms. Wallace was a member of the Iowa Playwrights Workshop,” recalls Jeri Lynn Schulke. “She had transferred into the program from the Writers Workshop, where she was writing poetry. I was in one of the first plays she ever wrote, a play about a Dutch family who fought against the occupation during WWII and who hid a Jewish family.

“While I’ve known her work for years,” Schulke explains, “I only recently read this play, as I was looking for a fall production that would be a good fit for the Halloween season. I was interested in finding something that would be challenging and interesting for all involved including actors and designers. I saw that North Carolina Stage in Ashville had recently produced this play; and I thought, ‘I need to read this play.’

“From the first page,” says Schulke, “I knew this was the play I was looking to produce. It is haunting and harrowing and perfect as a vehicle at Halloween.”

She adds, “The play portrays people in the middle of a crisis, and explores how people can find hope and also extend their hand to comfort others during that crisis. While there is despair and darkness during a crisis, moments of hope and light can be found. Tenderness can be exhibited to others even during times of suffering.

“The characters are incredibly complex,” claims Schulke. “There are no easy answers for the characters, and I thought the work would be so much fun for actors and designers to explore.

She adds, “The language is also beautiful. Wallace was a poet at the start of her writing career; and the language in the play is heightened at times, which is challenging for actors. I love to challenge people; and believe that given the opportunity, people will rise to the occasion. The actors and designers involved with this production have certainly done just that and more.”

Ros Schwartz as Morse and John Honeycutt as Kabe (photo by Adam Graetz)

Ros Schwartz as Morse and John Honeycutt as Kabe (photo by Adam Graetz)

Jeri Lynn Schulke notes that One Flea Spare is set in the 1600s, during the height of the bubonic plague in London. When the curtain rises, Schulke says, “[A] young girl, Morse (Ros Schwartz), and a sailor, Bunce (Eric Swenson), have found their separate ways into the home of a wealthy couple, the Snelgraves. William Snelgrave (Lance Waycaster) and his wife, Darcy (Jillian Holmquist), have already been quarantined for a month after the deaths of their servants from the infection. After catching the two interlopers, the guard outside their house — Kabe (John Honeycutt) — quarantines [all] four for another 28 days.”

But, Schulke says, “Bunce and Morse may not be who they appear to be. Nor are the Snelgraves.

“Struggles for authority and power ensue between the four of them,” reports Jeri Lynn Schulke. “The history of each character is revealed as they negotiate their place within the hierarchy of their small world.”

In addition to producer and director Jeri Lynn Schulke, the ArtsCenter Stage creative team for One Flea Spare includes technical director and set designer Paul Stiller, assistant technical directors John Paul Middlesworth and William Stott, lighting designer Lawruh Lindsey, costume designer Jessie Gillooly, properties manager Tracey Broome, sound designer Adam Sampieri, dialect coach Ros Schwartz, and dramaturg and stage manager Melissa Craib. One Flea Spare also features original music by local guitarist and vocalist Adam Sampieri and lyrics by Naomi Wallace.

Schulke says, “The set includes both an interior of a single room in which the four characters are trapped and the outside of the house. No spoilers on how the two separate locations are achieved!

“The set designer, along with our dramaturg, researched buildings of the time period to achieve a very realistic house and room,” Schulke says. “The colors on the set are muted with lots of dark browns, grays and stucco walls.”

She adds, “There are lots of opportunities with the lighting to play with shadows. Candlelight is simulated and achieved by using flicker affects; and footlights are used, which create large shadows on the walls of the set. There is a fire pit outside the house, which lights up with a motor inside to simulate moving flames.

“There are moments of darkness on the set, which helps create the harrowing world in which the characters have found themselves trapped,” says Schulke.

She notes, “The costumes are from the period of the 1600s and place each character within their place in society. The Snelgraves have more elaborate costumes, with Mr. Snelgrave coming across as a bit of a dandy. Darcy Snelgrave is bit more subdued in her dress. Morse and Bunce have been on the streets for a period of time, and their clothing reflects this fact. Kabe[‘s wardrobe] is fashioned out of clothing he has found and taken off dead people in the pits. All of the costumes are in the muted range — lots of browns, grays, and black.

Staging One Flea Spare for ArtsCenter Stage presents a number of challenges for the cast and creative team, says producer and director Jeri Lynn Schulke. First, she explains, is the “language, which is at times heightened and challenging for the actors. The set is also very challenging — there are scenes that take place outside the house on the street and scenes which take place in the interior of the house. We have come up with an ingenious solution (thanks to our crackerjack set designer, Paul Stiller!), which I will keep a secret until the show opens!”

She adds, “The lighting was also very challenging as we wanted to portray in a very real way the world at the time in the 1600s. The house is boarded up and little light comes through. There is lighting from candles (practicals lighting instruments are used), and it has given lighting designer Lawruh Lindsey the opportunity play with a lot of shadows and darkness.”

ArtsCenter Stage presents ONE FLEA SPARE at 8 p.m. Oct. 14 and 15, 3 p.m. Oct. 16, 8 p.m. Oct. 21 and 22, and 3 p.m. Oct. 23 in the Earl and Rhoda Wynn Theater at 300-G E. Main St., Carrboro, North Carolina 27510.

TICKETS: $14-$16 ($10-$12 students and seniors and $12 ArtsClub Members).

BOX OFFICE: 919/929-2787, ext. 201, or http://www.etix.com/.

SHOW: http://www.artscenterlive.org/story/one-flea-spare-naomi-wallace.

SEASON: http://www.artscenterlive.org/performance/artscenter-stage-series.

PRESENTER: http://www.artscenterlive.org/performance/artscenter-stage-series.

VENUE: http://www.artscenterlive.org/.

DIRECTIONS/PARKING: http://www.artscenterlive.org/index.php?a=About%20Us&b=Directions.

OTHER LINKS:

The Play: http://www.broadwayplaypubl.com/ofs.htm (Broadway Play Publishing, Inc.), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/One_Flea_Spare (Wikipedia), and http://www.lortel.org/ (Internet Off-Broadway Database).

The Playwright: http://www.broadwayplaypubl.com/WALLACE.HTM (Broadway Play Publishing, Inc.), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naomi_Wallace (Wikipedia), and http://www.lortel.org/ (Internet Off-Broadway Database).

The Director: http://www.caiofnc.com/resume.php?aid=69 (Capital Artists Inc.).

Great Plague of London (1665-66): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Plague_of_London (Wikipedia).

EDITOR’S NOTE:

Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review, a FREE weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter that provides more comprehensive, in-depth coverage of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill theater than all of the other news media combined. This preview is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.

To start your FREE subscription to this newsletter, e-mail RobertM748@aol.com and type SUBSCRIBE TTR in the Subject: line.

To read all of Robert W. McDowell’s Triangle Theater Review previews and reviews online at Triangle Arts & Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/robert-w-mcdowell/.

EDITOR’S NOTE:

Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review, a FREE weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter that provides more comprehensive, in-depth coverage of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill theater than all of the other news media combined. This preview is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.

To start your FREE subscription to this newsletter, e-mail RobertM748@aol.com and type SUBSCRIBE TTR in the Subject: line.

To read all of Robert W. McDowell’s Triangle Theater Review previews and reviews online at Triangle Arts & Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/robert-w-mcdowell/.

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