Playwright Ann Marie Healy tweaks Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 (where banned books are burned) with her WHAT ONCE WE FELT (playing through March 22nd at the Davis Square Theatre). In Healy’s nightmarish utopia A) There are no men (We could debate whether that’s a loss!) and B) Books are on the way out, being replaced by digitized versions which “crunch the themes” and “do away with interpretation.”
When Healy goes for the jugular (designer babies for the “haves,” no medical care for the “have-nots”), the play kills. When she stabs at the capillaries (new age food and TV talk shows), it loses focus. The good news is that Flat Earth’s production, under the sharp eye of Lindsay Eagle, grabs your attention and doesn’t let go. Eagle directs from every angle, cleverly foreshadowing events (a sick have-not lingers near the audience through the first scene) and she wrings extra laughs from Healy’s sardonic script.
The production values are sky high, with a gallery worthy, handmade multi-screen installation of books as a backdrop, which change the scenery with the flip of a page. (Crisp artwork by Allison Olivia Choat; ingenious dowel machinery by Leigh Downes) When the play finishes its run, it ought to go into someone’s art collection.
Endangered books are the central metaphor in Healy’s play: No books, no freedom. Her central character (Colleen Moore) the narrator of the play, is in fact a character in “the last published print novel”….and she’s a have not. The author of that book (Kelly Chick) is at the mercy of a manic publisher (Emily Kaye Lazzaro), not to mention a wildly flamboyant agent (Mary Ferrara) and a scheming line editor (Meredith Saran). She doesn’t stand a chance.
A subplot about ordering up or rather “downloading” a baby has Kamela Dolinova and Nicole Dunn contemplating parenthood and having to deal with the unpleasant consequences of a glitch in the system. Alissa Cordeiro is Healy’s tragic anti-hero, who knits like Mme. Defarge, watching her mother suffer. Healy wants us to think ‘revolution’ from the start, way before “the resistance” is mentioned by Saran. I found the dense story convoluted at times but the crackerjack ensemble is the reason WHAT ONCE WE FELT succeeds.