Category: Eclipse Theatre Company
Eclipse tightly weaves sexual and cerebral dark comedy
|Eclipse Theatre presents|
|One Flea Spare|
|Written by Naomi Wallace
Directed by Anish Jethmalani
at Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln (map)
through May 22 | tickets: $28 | more info
Reviewed by Dan Jakes
Charles’ Law: confine elements together, turn up the heat, watch them expand. Prevent them from expanding, and you watch them burst.
It’s a basic principle of chemistry, and a loose outline for any drama in which characters are trapped together during a crisis. The heat, per se, in Naomi Wallace’s 1995 play is in part the Great Plague that ravaged London during the 17th Century, and in part the class and sexual inadequacies of her characters: a wealthy couple quarantined inside their home, and the two poor, desperate scavengers who sneak in for shelter.
Twenty five days into a preventative lockdown with boards and a guard (Zach Bloomfield) sealing the couple’s walls and windows, a young servant disguised as a wealthy man’s daughter (Elizabeth Stenholt) and a sailor (JP Pierson) inadvertently extend the couple’s incubation stay from three more days to a full twenty eight. Tensions quickly escalate.
The plague is only the backdrop in Wallace’s story—to some of these characters, it’s more or less a nuisance than a crisis. The real threats within the estate are offenses to each others’ presumptions and social sensibilities: sexual bargaining, class warfare, homoeroticism…One Flea Spare explores these tasty ideas with a steady mix of poetry and prose, absurd comedy and claustrophobic tension.
Even with violence always looming, and several onstage nods to penetration, the experience is more intellectual than visceral. It’s always satisfying to think about, if only mostly fun to watch. Underneath the play’s linear-plot exterior lies a mosaic play’s heart, mashing together styles and tones, sometimes with enlightening results; other times, the product is more convoluted.
Director Anish Jethmalani is able to help keep the show grounded in places where Wallace doesn’t, knowing not to overwhelm the tightly packed text. Her straightforward and precise staging provides clarity to themes that could easily otherwise be murky. The cast does likewise. This small ensemble is exceptional, especially Brian Parry as the proud, aging, and sometimes oafish house master. Susan Monts-Bologna achieves sympathy without victimhood as his oppressed wife, and JP Pierson conveys a sense of maturity that’s found somewhere in between a young man’s idealism and an adult’s surrender to reality.
All photos by Scott Cooper