Review: Driftwood’s ‘Fahrenheit 451’ is a chilling masterpiece

A star cast headlines Driftwood Players' TIPs production of Fahrenheit 451
A star cast headlines Driftwood Players’ TIPs production of Fahrenheit 451

Fahrenheit 451

By Ray Bradbury
Directed by Ted Jaquith

Driftwood Players at
Wade James Theatre
950 Main St.

Ticket discount for educators and students

“Educators and students will receive discounted tickets to this classic piece of literature on our stage!” invites managing director Kim Smith. Date night!

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When Diane Jamieson, Driftwood Players assistant director and theatre veteran, selected Fahrenheit 451 as the opening production for the troupe’s TIPs program, little did she know how topical her selection would be.

Jamieson smiled in a Cheshire manner as she shrugged her shoulders when My Edmonds News asked her about the parallel of the subject matter to current events as the cast of Fahrenheit 451 filed out to receive their congratulations after Thursday night’s opening of Ray Bradbury’s 1953 play.

Penned as a dystopian exposé at the height of the McCarthy era, Bradbury’s cautionary tale bears heeding. With a heavy dose of cynicism, the playwright unmasks the devolution of intellect and how society in ‘the Fahrenheit days’ came to be – a grave warning to those of us who would rather let others do our critical thinking for us.

Lovers of literature will cringe as the match is set (figuratively) to hundreds of history’s greatest works; the pages heat and curl as the flames’ temperature reaches the flash point of Fahrenheit 451. Bradbury gives us a chilling glimpse into a society where books are burned and media masters are the only source of information in an entertainment-based, intellectually-shallow society.

As an explanation of how “the system” came to replace self-determination with low-intellect entertainment, protagonist “Beatty,” the fire chief of the book burners (played by Apostolos Gliarmis), observes in a cat-and-mouse exchange with Montag (Ryan St. John) and Montag’s wife (Jean E. Sleight) – while peering through smoke rings created by his pipe smoke:

“Picture it [Montag], 19th-century man with his horses, dogs, carts, slow motion. Then, in the 20th century, speed up your camera. Books cut shorter; condensations, digests, tabloids. Everything boils down to the gag, the snap ending.

“Classics cut to fit 15-minute radio shows, then cut again to fill a two-minute book column, winding up at last as a 10- or 12-line dictionary resume. I exaggerate, of course. The dictionaries were for reference. But many were those whose sole knowledge of Hamlet (you know the title certainly, Montag; it is probably only a faint rumor of a title to you, Mrs. Montag) whose sole knowledge, as I say, of Hamlet was a one-page digest in a book that claimed: now at least you can read all the classics; keep up with your neighbors. Do you see? Out of the nursery into the college and back to the nursery; there’s your intellectual pattern for the past five centuries or more.”

Driftwood represents Bradbury’s dystopia in a stark noir landscape of murky lighting and crumbling masonry; sharp corners and dark shadows. The theatre is quiet as scene one begins.

Then suddenly, the flare from a lighter creates a flash in the dimly lit theatre. If one is paying close attention they will hear Montag as he chuckles in the most sinister manner. It chills the bones.

The lighter is snapped shut and the flare extinguished. The theatre is once again cast in darkness.

We could imagine a heavy hand in lighting the stage in strobes of red, orange and violet.

Then, enter “Clarisse,” played expertly by Camisa Hensen in a manner that credits the playwright. The dark tone is juxtapositioned – will there be a moment’s relief? Clarisse is quirky, refreshing – but in this setting she is also frightening. Bradbury introduces a character that is so unbridled in a controlled society that a collision course is set.

And this is where director Ted Jaquith plies his trade. An experienced director, Jaquith takes the character of Clarisse to the breaking point – we fear for her naiveté. And (spoiler alert) ultimately our fear becomes realized – if only through the production’s arc.

Jaquith manages a string of pathos scenes that reflect just how normalized insanity can become. The gleam in Mrs. Montag’s eyes as she hears her own name intoned over the all-pervading television show meant to divert the intellect of housewives; the jock-like “we win” behavior of the medics who save Mrs. Montag from her accidental suicide attempt – and so many other scenes “normalized” in a craven dystopia.

The cast in The Players production of Fahrenheit 451 deserves, on whole and without exception, a standing ovation. This reviewer likes to watch the supporting actors’ ability to stay in character as main characters deliver monologues. It’s noteworthy to see the level of respect and interest shown to all on the Wade James stage.

Jaquith was wise to select such a strong line-up of returning cast members, familiar with the Driftwood boards for such a well-known classic. Dialogue mishaps can derail a production as riveting as this one. Long rehearsal schedules, as we’ve stated in previous reviews, are a must for community theatre productions.

It was nice to see Simone Barron selected for the part of Mrs. Hudson, and Ryan St. James never disappoints.

Apostolos Gliarmis, an experienced actor new to the Puget Sound area, caught the attention of My Edmonds News for his commanding performance in Fahrenheit 451 and the manner in which he handled the playwright’s riveting monologues.

From a very large and experienced cast of local actors, Apostolos (Paul) Gliarmis is asked to step forward as the recipient of a My Edmonds News Tony award. Playing the part of “Beatty,” Gliarmis had full command of the stage during each of his monologues, holding the play in the taut and gripping manner necessary to successfully execute the horror that surely Bradbury envisioned.

In a quick exchange as his lady looked on, and before he was whisked into a circle of congratulations by well-wishers, Gliarmis told My Edmonds News that he has been on stage since high school.

His IMBD profile lists several movies in which he has played a part, most recently “War Pigs,” an action movie starring Mickey Rourke (there’s grist for another interview) in which he plays the role of “Shank.”

Gliarmi tells us he left his home in South Dakota about a year ago to relocate in the Seattle area. Welcome to Edmonds, Apostolos — you wear it well.

Fahrenheit 451 plays through Oct. 30. Tickets are available either by calling the theatre at 425-774-9600 or by visiting Driftwood’s online box office or their brick-and-mortar location, 306 Main St. (south side of building, lower level.)

— By Emily Hill

  1. Fahrenheit 451, published in 1953, could not be more appropriate to 2016. This excellent selection matches the reductivism of our times with searing precision. See this to still be thinking about it days later!

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