It is the curious power of books that they seem to read us as much as we read them; a single sentence can shift our lives forever. That uncanny connection fuels fascism -- and ultimately liberation -- in "Fahrenheit 451," now staged by author Ray Bradbury's own Pandemonium Theatre Company at the Fremont Centre Theatre. The Pulitzer Prize-winning writer has adapted his classic 1953 novel for the stage, and half a century later, it hasn't lost the power to chill.
Set in a painfully familiar future, "Fahrenheit" depicts an America free of critical inquiry, where everyone guest stars on reality shows and ideas are treated as infections. Guy Montag (David Mauer, alternating with Lee Holmes) works as a fireman, which is to say he starts fires, burning all books and institutionalizing their readers. But when he meets Clarisse (a helium-voiced Jessica D. Stone), his certainties start to erode, and he's soon stealing Dickens and the Bible from incineration sites.
This is an ambitious "Fahrenheit" for a small venue -- it features projections, video clips, and numerous fires -- and director Alan Neal Hubbs' production doesn't quite pull it all off. John Edw. Blankenchip's set design, all verticality and smooth walls, certainly evokes a society of inhuman scale, but the production's aesthetic lacks consistency: at one point fire appears in the form of a paper cut-out, and then later as a more abstract lighting cue.
What tracks, thanks to Mauer's understated performance, is Montag's dawning realization that he is a man who can't live without asking questions. Bradbury's vision affirms the incantatory power of the written word, ensuring that "Fahrenheit" remains a bracing parable.
-- Charlotte Stoudt
"Fahrenheit 451," Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave., South Pasadena. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. No performance July 4. Ends July 26. $10-$20. (323) 960-4451. Running time: 2 hours.
'Trailerville' isn't hitched just right
Flashes of original style pop up in "Trailerville," and those susceptible to heartfelt sentiment and regional ribaldry may find it rewarding. Hannah Logan's seriocomic morality play about a Southern mobile home park in the 1970s makes its strongest points through nonjudgmental usage of idiom and behavior
This ambitious From the Ground Up Theatre production is certainly resourceful, starting with its evocative sheet-metal-and-trailer facade set (designed by Monica DiBiasio and John Kay, assisted by Luis Guerra). Director Eileen Galindo skillfully deploys her big cast (with alternates) around the wee Moving Arts venue, and barring some blustery bits they comport themselves with conviction.
A miniature epic about the denizens of Lakeview Mobile Home Park in DeSales County, "Trailerville" explores various Southern eccentricities and the mysterious ways of faith. Against the core story of 9-year-old math prodigy Holly (Jennifer Cetrone), her alcoholic mother (Marjorie Knight) and fire-breathing minister grandfather (Peter Allas), Logan weaves her passel of post-Del Shores oddballs into deep-fried collusion.
However, not all the multiple story lines achieve dramatic cohesion. Those of ex-con Kevin Holcombe (Kay), cross-bearing Langston Hatchett (John Henbest) and nurturing Bella Boucher (Monica Martin) are most integrated. Conversely, diner owner Everett (Ron Ransen), mechanic Joan (Jackie Jones), waitress Gayle (Ashby Plain) and compulsive overeater Maggie Roquefort (Cheri Johnson), to name but four, carry humor and pathos without quite fitting into the overarching scheme.
Furthermore, the erratic mix of narrative devices requires a rethink. Although Caroline Whitney Smith narrates with aplomb, too many of the interjections would work better dramatized. As would the direct address moments from other characters, which, along with a singing Higher Power (Kathleen Ingle), suggest that "Trailerville" may be sitting on the libretto for a new kind of inspirational musical.
-- David C. Nichols
"Trailerville," Moving Arts Theater, 1822 Hyperion Ave., L.A. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; also July 27, 2 p.m. Ends July 27. $12-$15. (323) 572-5044. Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.
Pinter's 'Betrayal' still devastates
Thirty years on and the affair still wounds. Harold Pinter's 1978 "Betrayal," now running at New Place Studio Theatre, is a Zen exercise in how form transfigures content. What might be another banal love triangle becomes, through the use of reverse chronology, a study in the quiet devastation of middle age. When book editor Jerry (Daniel Reichert) seduces Emma ( Nike Doukas), the wife of his best friend (Leo Marks), the betrayal isn't just marital: Pinter anatomizes how adultery's attendant secrets slowly poison intimacies and self-respect all around.
Andak Stage Company's production has a glossy, upscale look: Dean Cameron's paneled set, hung with oil paintings, evokes posh literary offices and tony restaurants off Soho Square. There's an elegance too in the way director John DeMita moves his players from scene to scene, the actors writing on a chalkboard to indicate the receding years.
But this "Betrayal" might be a bit too tasteful. The fine cast mines the tension and restraint in Pinter's music, but they tend to play to the text instead of against it. The result is a polished show that absorbs rather than unsettles, never quite finding the jagged, unexpected edges of love and trespass.
-- Charlotte Stoudt
"Betrayal," New Place Studio Theatre, 10950 Peach Grove St., North Hollywood. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Sundays. Ends Aug. 3. $25. (866) 811-4111. Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes.