Live theater, unsolicited commentary. From Detroit to Lansing.


The audience at the final showing of One Flea Spare was one of the largest I had seen at the Planet Ant for a while, which brightens my spirits before any performance. Having arrived extremely early, I scrutinized every word of the program, including the short primer on the play's setting and history. Although the specific mention and definition of a few terms did aid my understanding, I later wondered why these could not have been made clear in context rather than by glossary. It turned out to be only my first concern with playwright Naomi Wallace's script.

The plot of One Flea Spare moves in fits and starts, beginning with a heap of exposition. A wealthy couple is quarantined in their home after several servants die of the plague, but just before their confinement ends, an AWOL sailor and the daughter of a neighbor separately infiltrate the house, and the quarantine begins again. This is all explained at the beginning; what the audience sees is the subsequent, "They wait."

Themes of class and role reversal are central to the play. The gentry is held captive by a commoner who officially patrols the streets and unofficially traffics in food and supplies. Yet the contrast is flawed: as the man in the street grows dirtier, even feral, the group inside the house is falling apart in its own ways. The intruders begin their stay as unwelcome guests, but quickly take the roles of servants, even as their masters continue to engage with and confide in them. I found that these minor contradictions took away from what should have been stark juxtapositions by the end.

As the characters spend most of their time simply waiting, their relationships develop and devolve by minuscule degrees, but because we are shown only representative interactions, some revelations seemed hasty or unearned. However, a welcome swell of action in the second act helped the fairly shocking conclusion stick, and my last impression was one of satisfaction.

This production had several elements in its favor, including a mostly strong cast. As the Snelgraves, Wendy Wagner and Marty Smith infused the proceedings with both energy and pathos. Brian Thibault's sailor consistently unearthed humor in unexpected places. Jenny Tocco gave an earnest performance, but was difficult to believe as a twelve-year-old.

True to form, the set design extended beyond the Ant's stage, even to the orange-hued restroom, bringing the audience in close quarters with the performers. The careful and intricate costume design provided details that were well appreciated in the intimate space. These combined to make a strong showing and another successful period offering, but ultimately did not keep me from thinking about the script's drawbacks rather than its themes and actions.


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