For most of us, Ray Bradbury's "Fahrenheit 451" is a fond memory going back maybe to high school and tucked away in that same literary drawer as "The Catcher in the Rye," but for very different reasons.
Those, along with "To Kill a Mockingbird," perhaps, were our earliest recollections of the power of literature to move us emotionally and intellectually and to remain in a corner of our mind to be recalled over the years as bits and pieces of meaningful memories.
It comes to mind now primarily because Las Positas College is presenting a theatrical version of Bradbury's short novel from 1953, at the time a cautionary tale against McCarthyism and the mindless dumbing down of a society lulled to a near-catatonic state by television's replacement of reading (and the burning of books). The story takes on even more meaning now, said drama instructor Wendy Wisely, who is directing the Los Positas production, which opens Nov. 15 in the Black Box Theater on the Livermore campus.
"Because I commute (she also teaches at Santa Rosa), I listen to books on tape," she said. "I saw 'Fahrenheit 451' at the local library, and since I didn't read it in high school, I thought I would try it. And when I listened, I thought, 'My God, how timely this is -- he is describing now."
Wisely had heard about the book and just assumed it was some sort of cautionary tale about totalitarian government, and how the "fireman" in the story removed books from homes by government edict.
Instead, she found most of the demand for doing away with books, thought-provoking entertainment and news came from the people, who were hooked on the mindless entertainment on their wall-sized "viewing screens," listening to sound, or simply white noise from "ear shells," which were remarkably like the ear buds in wide use today.
"But it really had nothing to do with Big Brother," Wisely said. "People stopped reading by their own accord, because books taught them to think and argue about the facts presented in the books they read, which caused them to use these facts against each other."
Reading causes tears, sadness and emotional pain. There were some, however, who enjoyed the knowledge brought by books, upsetting or not, and after the firemen were assigned to burn the books, set about memorizing books to preserve them for the future.
And it is upon this premise that the conflict arises in the novel and the play Bradbury later adapted from it. When she learned of the play, she decided it was a show she had to direct, and it became part of Las Positas' current season.
In researching the play script, Wisely learned that Michael Butler, artistic director of Walnut Creek's Center Rep, had once put on a staged reading of the piece, and used some of his notes and ideas in this production.
There are some changes from book to play, but the story is fundamentally identical, and even more relevant, given the role of things like essentially meaningless reality television shows that turn everything from cooking to camping into competitions and present "news" day and night as an information drone with variations on stories that render them into little more than noise filling the darkness.
"Fahrenheit 451" plays in the Black Box Theater, Room 4128 in the theater building at Las Positas College, beginning at 8 p.m. Nov. 15 and again at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays through Nov. 24. Tickets, at $12 for general admission and $8 for students and seniors, are available at 925-424-1000, x2480.
Contact Pat Craig at firstname.lastname@example.org.