One Flea Spare

One Flea Spare" is a dark and numbing drama of social allegory and sexual ambiguity that combines elusive characters and a potentially interesting environment. But the play by Naomi Wallace, who plucked the title from a John Donne poem, manages only to titillate, rather than involve, its audience. Story is set against the devastating bubonic plague that claimed thousands of lives in 1665 London. Two fleeing commoners take refuge in the home of an affluent shipbuilder and become quarantined along with their reluctant aristocratic hosts.

With:
Cast: Mischa Barton (Morse), Bill Camp (Bunce), John De Vries (Snelgrave), Dianne Wiest (Darcy), Paul Kandel (Kabe).

Bunce (Bill Camp) is a well-traveled merchant seaman who once jabbed a sail hook into his neck to feign a scurvy infection, and for years has nursed a gaping wound in his side. A souvenir from a coal mine brawl, the hole simply refuses to heal. He is accompanied by a fearless 12-year-old girl (Mischa Barton) who has crawled out from beneath the lifeless body of her father and fled a house of death. In her struggle to survive, the orphaned waif has become a cunning negotiator for scraps of food, and beneath the tattered surface the playwright uses the character as a kind of angel of mercy.

The unwitting hosts to the scavengers are Snelgrave (John De Vries), a grizzled, arrogant tyrant, and his wife, Darcy (Dianne Wiest), “all, that’s left of beauty in town,” whose body is scarred from a long-ago stable fire. The house is guarded by the worst sort of rabble, a man called Kabe (Paul Kandel), a lecherous scoundrel who would trade a piece of candy or a bit of fruit to nuzzle the foot of the little girl.

The play is a gloomy dance of death, a pretentious and potent offering of degeneracy. The poetic structure is surrealistic, with vivid descriptions of death and a turbulent storm at sea. The staging is stark, and the players valiantly attempt to get a grasp on their mysterious characters. Wiest is icy and regal as the old woman, De Vries cuts a crusty image as the miserly husband, and Barton, often lacking clarity, provides a chilling account of the last survivor.

Riccardo Hernandez’s set presents two stately chairs on the polished floors of a once-elegant drawing room, all that remains of former glory.

One Flea Spare

New York

Production: A New York Shakespeare Festival presentation of a play in two acts by Naomi Wallace. Directed by Ron Daniels. Set, Riccardo Hernandez

Crew: Costumes, Paul Tazewell; lighting, Scott Zielinski; music, Michael Rasbury; sound, Stuart J. Allyn; stage manager, C.A. Clark. Producer, George C. Wolfe. Opened March 9, 1997, at the Joseph Papp Public Theater's Martinson Hall. Reviewed March 7; 193 seats; $35. Running time 2 HOURS.

With: Cast: Mischa Barton (Morse), Bill Camp (Bunce), John De Vries (Snelgrave), Dianne Wiest (Darcy), Paul Kandel (Kabe).

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