The seed for Prime Stage to produce Ray Bradbury's "Fahrenheit 451" was planted in May, when the company's Dark Night Reading Series featured five of the sci-fi author's short stories.
Director Justin Fortunato said he had been in touch with the writer through his daughter when news of Mr. Bradbury's death at age 91 came in June.
"I had been looking forward to working with him on the production, and it turned into a kind of tribute to the wonderful works he's done," said Mr. Fortunato, a fan who has read through much of the Bradbury canon while preparing the production.
Mr. Fortunato, who has acted in several Prime Stage productions and recently directed "Next to Normal" for his own Carnivale company, takes umbrage when he hears that Prime Stage is "just" a young people's theater. It is that, taking as its mission the production of adapted literary works often taught in schools, but it's much more.
"The mission is to bring literature to life and I do think that gives the idea that it's children's theater," he said. "But we have this amazing cast of 10, including Daina Michelle Griffith and Monteze Freeland and other local actors people will recognize. And this [show] is scary."
In the near future of "Fahrenheit 451," individual thought is under attack and books are burned as provocateurs of anarchy.
The production presents a dystopian society in which book-burning squads are dressed like today's firemen, instead of the usual black-clad squads with flamethrowers. How they achieve the 451 degrees F it is said it takes to burn a book should come as a surprise.
But be warned -- there will be fire.
The notion of burning pages may seem quaint when ebooks hold potentially hundreds of books for a single read.
"At one of our first production meetings, the notion came up of breaking everybody's Kindles or Nooks," Mr. Fortunato said. "Literature is more available today than ever. ... There's this great quote from Ray Bradbury: You don't have to burn books; you just have to get the public to stop reading." And by extension, stop thinking. In a fascist state like the one in the book and in others from our history, the thinkers are made out to be the enemy.
Mr. Fortunato has opted for practical effects wherever possible. The menacing Mechanical Hounds, for instance, will be suggested; the projections called for in the script are alluded to but not seen.
The ideas behind "Fahrenheit 451" are scary, and so are the enforcers of those ideas. Mr. Fortunato -- with lighting designer J.R. Shaw, set designer Johnmichael Bohach, sound designer Angela Baughman -- are determined to make them suitably frightening, as budget and imagination allow.
"How am I going to scare kids? Hound puppets?," Mr. Fortunato said.
Instead, he warned, watch for the glaring eyes.
"All That Jazz," Prime Stage's fund-raiser Nov. 8 at the New Hazlett, will feature Etta Cox and Jeff Calhoun, the Tony-nominated director of "Newsies," as emcee. The event honors the company's director-in-residence, Rich Keitel, and Darlene Harris, president of Pittsburgh City Council, District 1. Tickets: $100 for adults; $50 for students. Mr. Calhoun, whose theater roots trace to Prime Stage, will hold an "Audition Master Class" on Nov. 10 ($20 to participate, $10 to observe). Tickets and details for both events are at showclix.com or 1-888-718-4253.theater
First Published November 1, 2012 4:00 AM