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Bradbury's dystopian classic succeeds on Encore Series stage

The searing lines from "Fahrenheit 451" depict a fiery, dystopian world as imagined by Ray Bradbury in 1953. Tuesday night, the Aquila Theatre brought that world to the stage of the Beach-Schmidt Performing Arts Center.

The Encore Series show opened with lighting that cast creepy, nightmarish flames on shredded gauzy backdrops. Discordant music accompanied the firemen as they responded to an alarm, performing their book-burning duties in a world where reading books not only has fallen out of favor, but has become a crime.

"If you don't want a man unhappy politically, don't give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one. Better yet, give him none," Capt. Beatty (James Lavender) tells fireman Guy Montag (Norman Murray) in a monologue that slices through their bizarre world with prophetic logic.

In this gripping speech, Captain Beatty points out that reading books hasn't always been a crime. However, the "tyranny of the majority" popularized anti-intellectualism, which eventually gave way to the practice of book-burning.

The Aquila cast was compelling, working through vast emotions, with ironic humor scattered throughout. As Montag, whose livelihood has been that of a book-burning fireman, develops a relationship with a strange young book-loving girl, he opens up to the world of ideas. Torn between the unfamiliar draw of literature and the reality show world of his wife, Mildred (Kali Hughes), Montag discovers unsettling truths. Sullen and shallow, Hughes sets an eerie tone as she portrays a woman too entrenched in her own ego to get a grip on reality.

"Fahrenheit 451" is powerful fiction that holds a mirror up to our world. There's drone technology in the story's electric hound that mercilessly pursues those who are thought to be a threat to the status quo. Although the electric hound never is actually seen in the stage production, his relentless presence pervades act two.

It was surreal to see the pages of Fahrenheit 451 brought to life on the stage, having first read the book as a teenager.

Throughout the years, I've found movies based on Bradbury's works have only dismally represented his lyrical prose. But the interactive nature of theater seemed a fitting vehicle for Bradbury, drawing the audience more deeply into the drama.

While I know "Fahrenheit 451" was hardly a walk in the park for many audience members, it's my hope it provoked a few uncomfortable moments of unintended thought.

Sometimes truth can best be viewed through fiction.

Dawne Leiker is a frequent contributor to The Hays Daily News.