History Gets a Slap on the Buttocks: Reed Theatre Does the Plague
“It’s a beautiful play about people in an extreme situation,” says Assitant Professor Kate Bredeson, director of One Flea Spare, written by contemporary playwright Naomi Wallace. One grasps the gravity of the situation by the second scene, in which thesis candidate Kenji Yoshikawa, playing the character of Bunce, urinates in a porcelain vase to preserve the liquor within that “might be the last I’ll have for weeks.”
Desperate for refuge from the chaos outside, these four mismatched characters all must share the one room in which no one has died.
One Flea Spare is set in a posh London home amidst the first waves of the Plague of 1665. William and Darcy Snelgrave (played by Max Maller and Ariel Dooner) are the owners of the house, now stripped bare of its furnishings and washed with vinegar to ward off the infection. A strange girl named Morse, whose family has all died of the Black Death, as well as the sailor, Bunce, invade the household, desperate for refuge from the chaos outside. The intruders get more shelter than they bargain for when the corrupt local official named Kabe (played beautifully by Phil Yiannopolous) quarantines the house, having spied the intruders entering the house and therefore suspected to have “the nasty,” as Kabe puts it. The four of these mismatched characters all must share the one room in which no one has died and the adjoining kitchen for 28 days without hope of escape, the doors having been boarded up and Kabe always on watch.
As we follow the interactions between these deeply troubled human beings, we learn about their pasts as well as our future. Wallace’s play focuses on social issues pertinent to the period of the play, but they are issues relevant to a contemporary audience. The play grapples with themes such as class struggle, homosexuality, and hypocrisy of the pious. In a one-on-one scene between Bunce and Mr. Snelgrave, Snelgrave keeps watch as Bunce washes the floor with vinegar. Snelgrave has an idea for “a game” to give history “a wee slap on the buttocks,” by allowing Bunce to wear a rich man’s shoes. The scene is played for the amusement of Snelgrave, but Bunce, having never worn such fine shoes, makes a proposal bordering on the revolutionary: “What if I kept the shoes?” Yoshikawa plays the scene cautiously, representing the disenfranchised man in a rich man’s house, yet he plays with subtle intimidation, keeping Max Maller’s character slightly nervous, sensing Bunce’s wish to overthrow the class structure that makes men like Snelgrave powerful.
The female characters in this play shine through the power structure imposed by Mr. Snelgrave. His wife, Darcy shows great compassion to both of the intruders, sympathizing with their plight under her domineering husband- a plight with which she is all too familiar. The young girl, Morse is the most subversive of the characters, apparently aged 12, but she speaks in lines alternating between the crude education she has received “from keyholes” and the intensely poetic—she says at one point “I am full of angels.” Morse herself is an angel of death—unafraid of neither Snelgrave nor the plague and totally unapologetic for her uncensored speech.
One Flea Spare mixes moments of intense tragedy with roaring laughs while seething with poignant social commentary—this is no hackneyed theatrical production, but a fresh and contemporary narrative through the lens of 1665 London, which frighteningly resembles our current social norms.
One Flea Spare continues its run this weekend, April 6 and 7 at 7:30PM.