Jefferson A. Russell stars as Beatty in Round House Theatre’s production of Fahrenheit 451. Photograph by Danisha Crosby
☆☆☆ 1/2 stars out of four
In Round House Theatre’s Fahrenheit 451, Jefferson A. Russell gets one of those ultra-monologues actors dream about. His fire chief character, Beatty, touches on just about every familiar-sounding social and political woe, from the zombifying nature of realty television to rampant anti-intellectualism to the dangers of fear-mongering censorship. It’s masterfully delivered, and it’s a somber reminder that things haven’t changed much since author Ray Bradbury first created his dystopian world back in 1953.
Bradbury’s work, where firemen are charged with burning books rather than putting out blazes, was adapted by the author himself for the stage in the 1970s. The work is now being given a modern, media-accented twist by Round House and the Savannah College of Art and Design, and while the work remains prescient for its time, the current production feels fresh and resonant.
The Round House production relies heavily on multi-media tools and graphics, and director Sharon Ott seamlessly blends the live action with the video components. The effects allow the show to reach beyond the limits of a traditional stage (which is helpful when working with a script so fire-centric), though occasionally the lack of realism of the graphics can lessen the tension of a dramatic moment, such as with the heartbreaking arrest of book-hoarder Mrs. Hudson (Jean Harrison). But this isn’t frequently an issue for Fahrenheit 451—the robotic hound created by the fire team to snuff out “criminals” is a menacing presence even within the limits of a television screen.
The production’s set and costumes have an industrial, retro-futuristic feel. The hero Montag’s platinum blonde, pink-clad wife Mildred (Liz Mamana) has an appropriately Stepford quality to her. In one scene, she’s attended by a dispassionate, mechanical team of paramedics who, offering automated platitudes to calm the distraught Montag (David Bonham), embody the eerie disconnect of Bradbury’s society.
Russell embodies the show’s most confounding character—the Machiavellian Beatty, who keeps the audience guessing about his motives throughout—and he’s a force to watch. He’s also given a proper foil in Montag, the fireman who first begins questioning the world he’s a part of, partly due to his encounter with the sprightly, philosophical Clarisse (Aurora Heimbach). Bonham’s clean cut, all-American look is suited to Montag, and his personal transformation comes about gradually and convincingly. He and Russell face off in a verbal, quote-slinging sparring match in Act Two, and the invigorating scene is emblematic of a show where the stakes feel frighteningly and familiarly high.
Fahrenheit 451 runs through October 9 at Round House Theatre. Tickets ($25 to $55) are available at Round House’s Web site.