Delightful staging of plague, decay
UCD’s performance of ‘one flea spare’
Published: Wednesday, October 10, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, October 10, 2012 22:10
The director’s notes open with a mention of the well-known phrase “hell is other people” from Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit. Sartre’s theme is certainly demonstrated in One Flea Spare, along with a few others. Five characters explore morality and social and sexual boundaries in this morbid play.
Nathan Thompson of CU Denver’s Department of Theatre, Film, and Video Production directs the play, which is written by Naomi Wallace and premiered in 1995. A handful of theatre students portray five characters among the many trying to survive an epidemic—and each other.
The play opens with Morse, a young girl played by both Cassy Clayman and Lydia Thompson, standing in the dark with a sole spotlight shining hauntingly down on her. Her dress is dirty and tattered, and blood stains her sleeve. A loud voice asks, “What are you doing out of your grave?” Morse sets the play in 17th century London, where countless people have died of the plague, their bodies piled high in ditches. Some in the last stages of the plague are going mad, and lurk around the ditches awaiting death. The few left alive and uninfected are suffering from fear and despair.
Craig Ewing and Gloria Gonzalez play William and Darcy Snelgrave, a wealthy uninfected couple who are quarantined in their own home. The Snelgraves are astonished to find that a sailor named Bunce (J. Nick Dickert and Christian Mendoza) has broken into their house to relieve himself into a vase, believing the occupants to be dead. Morse also mysteriously appears, impersonating the daughter of acquaintances. Brian Funke portrays Kabe, the guard who keeps the four strangers locked in the house throughout the play.
The Snelgraves first make sure the intruders are not carrying the plague. Having determined that he isn’t infected, the Snelgraves decide to employ the young sailor as a hired hand, their servants having already perished. The childless couple also settles on taking Morse in as their own daughter. The Snelgraves themselves are distant from each other. Unable to leave the house for days on end, the dynamics between these strangers create an interesting chain of events that become gradually more absurd.
Kabe provides some comic relief throughout, at one point emerging nearly naked wearing a bowl of burning charcoal atop his head and shouting absurdities. Mrs. Snelgrave, having been neglected by her husband, has encounters with Bunce that are too close for Mr. Snelgrave’s comfort. His anger and hatred escalate with each act, resulting in his own captivity. Morse’s dark ideas speak beyond her 12 years, and provoke profound thought. Her understanding of events surpasses that of the other characters, and provides perspective for the audience.
Nothing is as it seems at first. Social structures are turned upside-down. A sensual vibe pervades every act. One Flea Spare’s characters seem to fear only one thing more than the plague itself: each other. Their fear causes nonsensical and morbid behavior, finally ending in death.