‘Fahrenheit 451’ heats up Waller Hall

A theater review: ‘Fahrenheit 451’

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Montag (Hannah Kate Simon), left, amid a stare-down with Mildred (Hannah Misera), center, while Clarisse (Olivia Anna) enjoys a book in a scene from “Fahrenheit 451” at Indiana University of Pennsylvania’s Waller Hall, through Nov. 16. Photo by Ethan Brogan.

By Ethan C. Brogan

INDIANA – Writer Ray Bradbury’s 1953 dystopian story “Fahrenheit 451” opened last week on Indiana University of Pennsylvania’s Waller Hall stage two days after American voters told a similar unsettling tale in the Nov. 4 midterm elections. TV pundits diagnosed the returns as an expression of fear and loathing amid a profoundly unsettling period.

Bradbury, who died in 2012 at age 91, would have appreciated the timing of the IUP stage adaptation. He wrote his most popular story – about book-burners (the title is a reference to the temperature at which paper combusts) – a half century ago at the height of the 20th century’s second Red Scare. The experience contributed to American historian Richard J. Hofstadter’s famous 1964 essay “The Paranoid Style in American Politics.”

“Fahrenheit 451” is set in a fictional futuristic society during a militaristic age in which dissent is suppressed and book-reading is taboo. Firemen are enforcers who spend their time acquiring books and torching them. Bradbury’s novel itself has not been banned so much as it has been expurgated and bowdlerized to rid it of mild curse words and sentiments opposed by religious moralists.

Now, amid fears of Ebola, ISIS and economic malaise, IUP theater professor Carrie J. Cole is directing the production here. Before the show opened Nov. 6, Cole said envisioning and constructing the Waller Stage set presented challenges, even including seating.

“It will be a different experience then sitting in a dark movie theater,” Cole said during an interview. “Burn enough books and some minds will catch fire,” she added, echoing a tagline for the production.

One of the main antagonists in the production is Captain Beatty, played by IUP theater and political science student Matthew P. Smith. The play has two meanings for him.

“On the one hand it’s a stark warning for instant gratification,” Smith said. “It also shows the power of hope, the human spirit, and intellectual curiosity.”

“Fahrenheit 451” continues at Waller Hall in the IUP Performing Arts Center Nov. 15 at 8 p.m. and Nov. 16 at 2 p.m.  For tickets and information, call the box office at 724-357-2787 or email lively-arts@iup.edu.

Ethan C. Brogan is a journalism major at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

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