Last night, boyfriend and I went to see a high school production of "Fahrenheit 451," because it's one of his favorite/most formative books and I happened to see it being advertised on my route to work. I...did not fully love it, but the actors were good, the set was pretty great, and most importantly, he loved it, so I had a good time. [edit: especially after I wrote this post, having had time to digest what I saw instead of trying to both follow/understand the story and form opinions about it at the same time.] Let me tell you a thing or two about it, though:
-There is one really amazing scene that stood out to me, which is when they come to burn an old woman's library, and rather than let them destroy her babies, she lights the match herself and dies along with her collection. I identified with that SO HARD. That is absolutely, 100%, Future Alternate Universe Me. Broke my heart in all the best ways. I would totally write an essay focusing on that scene if I'd had to read this book for class.
-At the beginning of that scene, though, they hurt books. Real books. They didn't burn them, but they did drop about a dozen stacks of them from ten feet up and let them smash into the stage, corners crumpling, pages fluttering in panic, spines incurring permanent damage, while I just sat there and dug my nails into the seat to maintain sanity. Sure, I had braced myself for the fact that something bad might happen to real books during this play and determined to keep my cool. Sure, they were probably junk books I wouldn't care about that are no great loss.
BUT HOW CAN I TRUST OTHER PEOPLE TO IDENTIFY "JUNK" BOOKS? WHAT IF THEY WERE ACTUALLY RUINING PRECIOUS-TO-ME TITLES? And then I just sat there and thought, "How can these heartless teenagers have agreed to produce this play knowing they'd have to do that? Why weren't there riots on set protesting this mistreatment of books? Oh god, this is The Middle's wanton stuffed-puppy destruction all over again! WHY DON'T YOU JUST STRANGLE SOME CHICKENS TO SERVE AT THE CONCESSION STAND WHILE YOU'RE UP THERE."
And that wasn't even the only time! Later in the play, the main character flings a couple of books across the stage as hard as he can and I just fought the urge to cry out (replaying the "probably junk books! definitely probably junk books!" mantra in my head as loudly as possible to drown out the "but what if" protests). And then I went home and lovingly swept my hands across the shelf books and blew kisses at the stacks of newly-acquired that are currently living in piles because I haven't sorted them yet.
Like, I know the point of the story is to simply appreciate the value of reading books (or at least stories...damn e-readers), but that message was not nearly as strong to me as OH THANK GOD NO RANDOM HIGH SCHOOL KIDS ARE ALLOWED TO USE MY BOOKS AS DESTRUCTIBLE STAGE PROPS! Which is why I ran home, ran my hands over spines/blew kisses to towering stacks, and officially lost the ability to cull any books for about the next year because that would be like selling a pet horse: who knows what sort of cruel and callous hands my babies might fall into! I rescued them and must now provide a refuge for life!
...so that's pretty much what I got out of this play. The other parts I really liked were how much I enjoyed Clarice (I would totally write an essay about her too) and even the shrill wife, whom I also think probably has a whole lot of interesting layers to explore beneath her initially superficial presentation, if I only had the text to work with. (my other major takeaway was, apparently, "the ladies are so much more awesome and interesting than the boring dudes in this story." And a weird urge to analyze literature again, which has never happened before.)
Oh! And the ending. I didn't fully understand what was going on for most of it, but when they had the whole chorus quietly reciting their lines, so that you couldn't understand any of them but it made the beautiful murmuring sound, really quite musical, that you imagine a library would sound like if humans could hear the pages talk? Amazing. I also loved how they increased in pitch once the dialogue ended, until they were gloriously shouting so you could start to hear clear phrases, and just filled me with the rousing spirit of BOOKS!: THEY'RE BETTER THAN YOU AND ALL YOUR FRIENDS.
And that was a pretty magical place to be.
Thoughts on Set Design, For Those Who Know The Story
-We never actually got to see the mechanical hound, but the sound effects they used were great, a combination of proper dog snuffling and a mechanical, siren-like bay of a howl.
-The catwalk-style second floor to the set, when they weren't dropping books off of it, lent a lot of visual interest. Especially when they had Faber perched up on one slightly-separate corner of it, with a lamp and a rocking chair, and somehow you really got the sense that he was in an attic miles away.
-Montag's wife, whose name I probably could look up, was wearing the loveliest dress -- she looked like a Greek goddess. It was pink but otherwise perfect Greek style, long and loose and flowy and sleeveless, complete with a rope-like belt. She wore jazz-dance slippers to complete the look, and her long, dark, curly hair was in a tousled half ponytail.
-They used 3 giant screens (looked like TVs, but could have been...oh, what do you call them, filmstrip screens) for background details like flames and computer screens issuing alerts. Pre-show and during intermission, they were playing recorded videos describing the laws about how reading is illegal, recruiting firemen, etc.
-For the intermission, they had the computer-esque voice that was doing the announcements during the play make announcements to the audience in the same style, e.g. "Intermission. Will be - fifteen - minutes. You can purchase - snacks - and beverages - at the concession stand." Chris burst out laughing in sheer delight. It was infectious.)
-The Bad Guy has a monologue rant that I swear must have been ten minutes long. It was absolutely more than five minutes long. After about three minutes, my eyes were glazing over and he might as well have been speaking in Russian because it was like I was hearing words, but I had absolutely no understanding of why he was stringing these sentences together or what most of them meant. Alternative simile: I felt like a six-year-old listening to a State of the Union address.
-The main reason I didn't like it, honestly, was pretty much just the main reason I don't like most futuristic dystopian novels: if one is twisted enough to think up a horrible world like this, which you shouldn't be, why would you then try to inflict it on other people? Your thoughts are dumb and shouldn't be thought! (there is a probably an allusion to the plot theme of how reading = thinking and thinking = bad here, but you know what, I'm too distracted by the lure of my television wall to complete it)
But that was before I wrote this whole post and went, "Damn it. Every time I make myself think about stuff I end up liking it more."
-The other thing I didn't like took place before the play: they had the "firemen" (dressed in all black, with sunglasses) lined up at the front of their stage with their arms crossed behind their back, standing in front of the stage and staring stone-faced out into the audience the whole time people were getting seated. It was too disturbing for me. They also had a spotlight/searchlight that blinded me at regular intervals, and worst of all, a couple of the thug force walking up and down the aisles, informing anyone they caught reading anything other than a program (including phone screens) that they were not allowed to do that here, before handing out "violation notices."
People (LIKE CHRIS) were also randomly being given books upon entry and told to "keep them safe" to foster this activity, which the thug force would then confiscate along with the notice. My mom was delighted by this interactive idea, and I'm sure many people would be, but I was just like I DO NOT WANT TO BE PART OF YOUR PLAY LEAVE ME ALONE. It felt too real, and honestly, after my recent awful movie theater experience, you can imagine how I felt about a stranger walking up to my seat while I'm happily minding my own business*. I was on the borderline verge of a panic attack after being "warned," and it wasn't even me they were fake-warning, it was him.
(*bonus fun: our tickets said "general admission" rather than having a seat number, like all my previous high school theater plays have, and I had bought them online so there was no one explaining what to do, so until the play started I was constantly uneasy, wondering if I was misreading them and we were going to get kicked out of our spots again. THANKS AGAIN, MARCUS CINEMA.)
IN CONCLUSION: I would never have gone to see this on my own and recommending it to book lovers might be like telling an animal lover they'll enjoy an eye-opening slaughterhouse exposé. But it turns out there are some pretty neat ladies in it, once I made myself actively think about it, and it was better than I thought it would be.