In Ray Bradbury's 1951 novel Fahrenheit 451, the government in a dystopic future has outlawed books — the better to curtail independent thinking — and city firemen are charged with burning libraries, rather than putting out fires. Sixty years later, you have to wonder how much relevance such a story retains: What with the Internet, Kindles, iPads, et al., pretty soon most people won't know what a book looked like.
Prime Stage Theatre believes the story remains relevant, and presents the Pittsburgh premiere of the Bradbury-written stage adaptation of his novel.
The book-burning, as it turns out, is just half of Bradbury's bleak future. In place of thought and learning, the citizens are, instead, entertaining themselves to death. Entire walls of people's home are floor-to-ceiling televisions spewing a steady stream of über-reality shows and serving as an interactive 24/7 link with the ever-watchful authorities. So between all of that, and copious psychotropic drugs, the population has been numbed into submission.
Not exactly an unforeseeable future.
Given the import of what he's saying, and the passionate call he issues at the end for intellectual integrity, I wish I could say I enjoyed the show more. The Prime Stage production is under the very resourceful direction of Justin Fortunato and a design team working every theatrical trick it knows: J.R. Shaw's lights, Johnmichael Bohach's settings, Angela Baughman's sound design and Paula Parker's costumes. But it can't shake Bradbury's adaptation loose from its prose roots. There are huge ideas in this work, a lot of them given wonderful voice by Monteze Freeland playing Capt. Beatty, but you do feel like you're being lectured to. It's a fascinating oration, undeniably, but the theatricality is quite limited.
Justin Patrick Mohr plays Montag, a fireman who begins to question his world and those who've create it, with a nice sense of the character's inner-struggle. Daina Michelle Griffith is strong as his medicated, but terrified, wife. And an impressive supporting cast brings a great deal of power.
It's ironic that a show so fervent in its praise of books is ultimately tripped up by its inability to move beyond its leather-bound origins.