Augustana play portrays relevant topics

Carly Davis

On May 6-9, a mainstage production of “One Flea Spare” will be performed in the Brunner Theatre Center with a five-person cast and directed by Dr. Jennifer Popple.
The play, written in 1995 by playwright Naomi Wallace, explores the fragility of social dynamics in a plague-torn 17th century London home. Wallace’s script engages with an older wealthy couple, a young girl, a sailor and the guard positioned outside of their home while they wait out four weeks of quarantine.
While the play treats a quarantine-causing pandemic as a hypothetical plot device, performing the show in 2021 gives it new life.
“Before the pandemic, most of us could only imagine what it’s like to be forced to be stuck inside for weeks at a time,” SophiaRose Brown, senior, said. Brown plays the role of Mrs. Darcy Snelgrave, a rich, older woman who takes interest in the lives of the young people living in her home.
“With the show, it brings a whole new layer of realness and understanding to the absolute insanity these characters are going through at times,” Brown said.
Wallace wrote “One Flea Spare” in response to the 1992 Los Angeles riots after the acquittal of four police officers (three of whom were white) who violently beat Rodney King, an African American man. Despite videotaped evidence of the incident being viewed by many Americans, the jury found the officers not guilty.
Wallace drew on the stifling setting of a pandemic to capture the social upheaval she saw in Los Angeles. Nearly 30 years later, Augustana College is performing the play after the unexpected conviction of Derek Chauvin, the police officer found guilty of murder after brutalizing George Floyd several months into the COVID-19 pandemic.
The script, rife with discussions of sexuality, sickness, authoritarianism and class divides, aims to confront contemporary American issues.
“It’s a lot more strangely open about topics of sexuality, the position of women in that time, and the freeness of a character who’s so blasé,” Will Crouch, sophomore, said. Crouch plays the guard standing outside of the Snelgrave’s home for the majority of the play. His interactions with the rest of the cast highlight the ever-present position of authority in a modern police state.
“He’s apathetic to a point. He’s 95 percent no sympathy until there’s a small opportunity to do a little something,” Crouch said.
Wallace’s script and Popple’s direction have allowed the small cast of Augustana students to channel a year’s worth of lived experience into the lives of their characters. “There’s only a five-member cast, so we’ve gotten really close with each other. These characters, from being together for weeks, really understand each other by the end of the show,” Brown said.
While some of the characters represent different areas of privilege and wealth, others operate as a metonym for disease or the evasion of class dynamics. The four quarantined characters are trapped in their boarded-up home, kept inside by a guard whose disdain is matched only by his indifference.
The strict London social dynamics and class divides erode over the course of four weeks, resulting in violence and upheaval. In “One Flea Spare,” the plague is not only the Black Death, police brutality, riots or the coronavirus but the disease of human cruelty which leads people to mistreat each other.