Photo by Thanh NguyenLittle of what transpires in Naomi Wallace's OneFleaSpare,receiving its Orange County premiere at the Chance Theater, is particularly noble; four people of questionable character quarantined during the Great Plague of 1665 isn't a prescription for great deeds.

But what makes Wallace's play so fascinating is that, although awash in death and corruption, so much life beats in its heart. That's testament to both Wallace's lyrically sensual writing and director Patrica L. Terry's understanding that while every play should be heard, some—like this one—absolutely mustbe heard.

Wallace is English, but her writing sounds Latin. Sights, sounds, smells and tastes abound, even in the most jarring images: rats drinking the sweat of dying men; hearts snapping in two inside grief-stricken chests; a summer so hot the sick and the old melt into the street like snow. Her plot and characterizations don't equal her poetics, but they don't need to; this is a play in which what is being said is less important than how it's being said.

William Snelgrave (Sean Hannaway) is a wealthy London industrialist quarantined with his wife, Darcy (Heather Howe), to ensure that neither carries a trace of the plague that killed two of their servants. Their time is nearly up when an itinerant sailor named Bunce (Joshua Jones) and a 12-year-old girl named Morse (Alex Bueno) sneak into their home. The local authority—a colorfully corrupt guard named Kabe (Warren Draper)—discovers the interlopers and gives all four another 28 days. It doesn't take a belletrist to figure out that four very different people confined in a sweltering, stink-ridden home with nothing to do but be are going to wind up either killing or fucking each other. The only real question is who is going to do what to whom.

The play makes a strong case that the human body is the ultimate political battleground, and sexual currency the only kind every human possesses; how we spend ours makes us who we are. But there's another message here, one borne out in the line, “Everyone leaves, even when they stay.” There is a universe of meaning in those six words. In this play's context, with desperate people frantically clinging to life of some kind, it suggests that failed relationships, shattered unions, broken friendships and the infinitely exhausting cycle of lies we tell ourselves and each other might stem less from a place of weakness and dishonesty than one of frantic hope and that keening, heart-breakingly human thirst for passion and connection—even if manufactured by ourselves.


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