Naomi Wallace’s award-winning play was last presented in New York at The Public Theater in 1996. It’s intriguing to consider why Playhouse Creatures think its revival timely. Mr. and Mrs. Snelgrave (Gordon Joseph Weiss and Concetta Tomei), a wealthy, older couple in 17th Century London, are quarantined in their home while the plague rages around them. At night the rats come out in two and threes to lick the sweat from our faces…
Their servants having died, William and Darcy live in the only two rooms still, hopefully, uninfected. Supplies and information (death tolls and gossip) come by way of Kabe (Donte Bonner), a mercenary who ostensibly keeps them inside while making a handsome profit.
Concetta Tomei, Remy Zaken, Gordon Joseph Weiss
Within a short time, the house is twice breached. A macabre 12 year-old girl, named Morse (Remy Zaken), allows the Snelgraves to believe she’s their neighbor’s well bred child running from household deaths, while Bunce (Joseph W. Rodriguez), a wounded sailor, is deferential and direct in his need for sanctuary. The intruders’ necks, arms, and stomachs are examined for telltale boils.
Concetta Tomei, Remy Zaken
In the first of many provocations, Morse, accepted as one of their own, asks to see Mrs. Snelgrave’s neck and gloved hands with the excuse that they’re likely beautiful. Bunce, considered beneath consideration, is put to work scrubbing the floors with vinegar. The Snelgraves haven’t been intimate since she was 17. Both are drawn to the attractive, virile sailor. William goads and salivates, Darcy passionately circles. Mr. Snelgrave is first imperious, then cruel. There are consequences. Morse appeals to Kabe – in passing. The girl parlays kissing her ankle for fruit; sucking a toe is more expensive. It will be 28 days before these four are allowed apart and outside.
Playwright Naomi Wallace is here intriguing and poetic. Historical description is trenchant. One Flea Spare contains deep sensuality, volatile sex (not actually seen) and palpable seduction, all heightened by the nearness of death. Moments of draconian class differences (and circumstances) are vividly represented by such as Bunce’s trying on Mr. Snelgrave’s beautiful shoes- at the latter’s unexpected invitation. Background stories are rich, relationships fascinating, characters well drawn. A horrible end works well.
There are, however issues. The program puts us in London 1665 and “now”, yet we never recognize the present. At one point Morse seems to describe her own demise, then appears again. Fearless, deceptive and calm, she may herself represent death. And what of the sailor’s wound, with which Mrs. Snelgrave is obsessed?
As to why now, perhaps the company is suggesting the state of our threatening world makes or should make us hyper aware of one another. In many ways, we too are sequestered together, some literally, others politically or emotionally. Action and reaction is daily inflated, sometimes with dire results.
Except for the affected Gordon Joseph Weiss who acts as if he’s the only one onstage, the company is strong and cohesive. Donte Bonner is a shifty survivalist to his skin. Supple carriage and fine accent enhance. Remy Zaken delivers a portrait of quiet malevolence with skin-tingling naturalness. Joseph W. Rodriguez’s personification of Bunce is proud, manly, watchful; a nucleus of in-check power. Sensitivity emerges with powerful grace and credibility.
Joseph W. Rodriguez, Concetta Tomei
Concetta Tomei is masterful. There isn’t a moment on stage we’re unaware of Mrs. Snelgrave’s thinking and/or emotion. Every action is colored by personal history. When Bunce touches her, the actress viscerally vibrates. In the presence of Mr. Snelgrave, she steels. At the last, her character resembles Medea. Brava.
Staging in the round is well handled by Director Caitlin McLeod. I rarely feel anything is missed. Characters standing on a stool at various corners of the raised platform are clearly leaning out of windows to communicate. Morse and Kabe respectively circle the stage speaking to ‘us,’ the former in his capacity as town crier, the latter like a dark angel. Proximity is effectively uncomfortable. Scenes with Mrs. Snelgrave and Bunce are electric. Ropes are employed with skill.
Bruce Cutler’s clever Scenic Design is comprised of hidden trap doors in the floor containing necessary elements, somehow always a surprise. Morse’s handmade dolls are terrific.
Costumes by Sarafina Bush are a ragtag, layered combination of period and contemporary. First apt, but later adjusted, they add to the confusion of when we are. Depiction of Mrs. Snelgrave’s physical cross-to-bear is extremely creative as is Kabe’s attire.
Photos by Monica Simoes
Opening: Concetta Tomei, Gordon Joseph Weiss, Joseph W. Rodriguez, Remy Zaken
Playhouse Creatures present
One Flea Spare by Naomi Wallace
Directed by Caitlin McLeod
Sheen Center (Black Box)
18 Bleeker Street
Through November 13, 2016