"Fahrenheit 451," Ray Bradbury's book about the burning of books, was the toast of the town last spring, no pun intended.
Mayor James Hahn urged all Los Angelenos to read it and implemented programs to help his constituents do so. Surely a large number of readers were introduced to this 1953 science-fiction classic, and found it remarkably prescient in its portrait of a future dominated by interactive but vacuous TV shows on big screens, headsets that prefigured Walkmans and cell phones, short attention spans, worries about homeland security.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday November 01, 2002 Home Edition Calendar Part E Page 31 Calendar Desk 3 inches; 127 words Type of Material: Correction
`Fahrenheit 451': Where and when
Following is information mistakenly omitted from a review of "Fahrenheit 451" that ran in Wednesday's Calendar.
Where: Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Drive, Burbank.
When: Wednesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 4 p.m.
Ends: Nov. 24.
Contact: (818) 955-8101.
Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes.
John M. Jackson...Beatty
Priscilla Allen...Mrs. Hudson
Produced by Ray Bradbury's Pandemonium Theatre Company with the Falcon. Directed by Charles Rome Smith. Set by Joshua Meltzer. Costumes by Alex Jaeger. Lighting by Peter Strauss. Sound by Dan O'Connell and Suzzy London. Stage manager Shelley Stevens.
Now Bradbury's new stage adaptation of his novel has opened at the Falcon Theatre in Burbank. Sad to say, it feels so desiccated that it may have the effect of deterring theatergoers from reading the book. Considering the play's theme, that would be a truly perverse irony.
For the uninitiated, the story follows the metamorphosis of Montag (D.B. Sweeney), a 30ish "fireman" -- in a society where the firemen start fires to burn books. Influenced by Clarisse (Becky Wahlstrom), a teenager who lives nearby, and later by her erudite uncle (Jay Gerber), Montag leaves his pill-popping wife, Mildred (Marguerite MacIntyre), and his job, becomes a fugitive and eventually finds a rustic society of refugees who memorize texts in order to pass them on to posterity.
This isn't Bradbury's first stage adaptation of "Fahrenheit 451." An earlier incarnation was staged by the Colony Theatre in 1979. Bradbury wrote about some of the changes in the story that he added for that version in an afterword to a 1982 edition of the book. The same changes remain in this rendition, and they aren't all improvements.
The biggest problem is that much of the first act is devoted to long harangues by Montag's boss, Capt. Beatty (John M. Jackson), in which he admits a former love of books, and describes the gradual deterioration of society and his disillusionment. He completes one lecture at one site and then moves on to more of the same at another site. His preachiness kills the narrative momentum.
Nor is the play helped by the visual design. The stage is largely bare, but the backdrop consists of three screens. At first, the "Fahrenheit 451" fan might look forward to seeing glimpses of the bubble-headed TV shows that Mildred spends her days watching. But no, those images are never made tangible. Instead, the screens are filled with a series of digital animations that are supposed to suggest the cool, sleek look of the era's architecture -- and the heat of the fires that dominate Montag's life.
The digital imagery, credited to Nick Denney, Jerry Belich and Wesley Horton, serves the former purpose well enough, but it flunks the fire test. The flames look carefully designed -- and patently fake.
The whole production, staged by Charles Rome Smith, lacks a sense of visceral passion. Although some felt that Francois Truffaut's 1967 film version had a similar problem, it's a fireball (plenty of images of real flames) compared with this cerebral and restrained staging.
The ending seems especially wan in contrast to the natural imagery that Truffaut's camera caught. And although the sound effects produce a scary growl for the mechanical "hound" that the firemen use to track down miscreants, the incidental music is nothing but incidental. The acting is proficient but colorless.
On opening night, Bradbury spoke briefly to the audience, saying that the "money-changers in the temple" of the movie studios drove him out, and "I have taken refuge in the theater ... this is my real home." From the looks of this production, however, his real home is in his books.