One Flea Spare

ArtsCenter Stage
Through Oct. 23

Last weekend, as people protesting economic and political inequity inhabited public spaces in dozens of American citiesincluding at least three Triangle communitiesa play about an occupation opened in Carrboro.

In The ArtsCenter of Carrboro’s production of Naomi Wallace’s eerie and poetic social drama One Flea Spare, several hypocritical class and cultural barriers crumble when the rich are forced to live with the poor, the manager with the laborer, the old with the young.

The year is 1665, and as the Great Plague begins to seize London, the ruling class and the rich have turned their backs on the poor. But since two of their servants have died, William Snelgrave, a wealthy, elderly manager at the Royal Dockyards, has been quarantined with his wife, Darcy, for three weeks in his Westminster home. Just as they’re about to be released from quarantine, a destitute sailor named Bunce and a 12-year-old girl, Morse, break into the house, believing it empty. Since they were seen, the quarantine period begins again. None of them may leave for 28 days.

As social distance dwindles between four people who in other circumstances would have never spent an afternoonmuch less a monthwith one another, the social contract of the time is repeatedly revised. When William “hires” Bunce as a servant, he also turns to him for romanticized and increasingly sexually lurid tales of an open ocean he’s never experienced. Darcy, in a loveless marriage, turns to Morse and Bunce with differing longings. Within four walls, these characters set up a network of physical and emotional needs and resources, one whose interdependence won’t support the divisions of class that came with them into the locked rooms.

Under Jeri Lynn Schulke’s direction, Ros Schwartz makes Morse a child who negotiates a world of hardnosed trade and sickness through an enigmatic mix of game play, whimsy and very dead reckoning, although certain monologues seemed rushed at points the night we were there. Elsewhere, Jillian Holmquist effectively navigated loss, dignity and the erotic as a prim, damaged, yet still desiring Darcy. Lance Waycaster gave William’s increasing desperation full value; our only cavil was with the actor’s comparative youth. Eric Swenson ably conveys a Bunce who remains his own man, despite the demands and coercions surrounding him.

As Kabe, the opportunistic guard who enforces the quarantine and torments the Snelgraves, John Honeycutt maintains a litany of body counts and bad news. “Here we perish on the streets in such vast numbers as much from lack of bread and wages as from the plague,” he reports. “Orphans’ money is on loan from the Lord Mayor to the King, and Parliament takes no action. They stir their soup with our bones.”

Though four centuries have passed, it all sounds quite familiar.