One Flea Spare by Naomi Wallace is a deceptively powerful play. Houston-based indie troupe Mildred’s Umbrella is known for mining strong material that fits into their cozy base at Midtown Arts Center.
It’s the time of the plague in 17th century London, and the pit is filling with the freshly dead and soon to be dead. Those left alive hole up together to either die or get lucky and survive. After all their servants die, Mr and Mrs Snelgrave have found themselves couped up in 28-day quarantine with a mischievous young girl, Morse, and a stoic sailor, Bunce. Mr. Snelgrave is a priggish brute of a man, caught up in the deception of class and rank. His wife, Darcy, has had much of her flesh burned away in a fire in a desperate attempt to save her horses. The smarmy Snelgrave hasn’t touched her since. Morse, is an amoral sprite, half pixie, half demon child. There’s not much to eat or do but wait to die a horrible painful death. Half way through, the tables turn, and Darcy, Morse, and Bunce gang up on old Snelgrave strapping him to his chair to wait out his impending death.
But really, this is a play about eroticism under the most unlikely circumstances. Snelgrave questions Bunce, the sailor, how he manages to stay sane without sex on a ship for long periods of time. In response, Bunce pierces an orange with Selgrave’s finger and then sucks its juices. Bunce pines for Darcy, scars and all. They play out their love as best they can until she too succumbs to the “tokens.” Bunce tries to save her but she asks for death, which Morse cheerily delivers thanks to a handy knife.
Jennifer Decker’s Darcy is a volcano ready to erupt. Mark Carrier projects an endearing directness as the dutiful sailor with a crush on the lady of the house. Greg Dean is perfectly repugnant as Snelgrave. Eric Doss plays Kabe, a creepy guard about the death pits with a foot fetish. Bree Welch is magical as Morse, the troubled angel of doom, and fully captures a spirit of unthinking innocence that dwells below the surface of Wallace’s play.
Patricia Duran goes for a bare bones treatment, letting Wallace’s ripe language move to the center, pushing the harsh drama closer than our comfort level. Wayne Barnhill and Ken Taylor’s white vinegar-washed room serves as the spare setting. Although difficult to watch at times, you never fully want to turn away from this riveting production.
The strange child gets the last word in a haunting monologue. It’s dreamy, poetic, and otherworldly, much like the terrain of Wallace’s captivating play.