One Flea Spare is a play set in London that enjoyed success in New York and Paris, where it was made part of the repertory at the French national theater in 2009. And it all came from the mind of Prospect native Naomi Wallace.
Despite its acclaim, the play is not widely performed in Kentucky, but it has been on a Lexington theater's radar.
"We read the play several years ago," says Natasha Williams, co-artistic director of Balagula Theatre. "We even did a reading of the play with actors.
Earlier this year, Balagula's directors were approached about judging a women's playwrighting competition presented by the Kentucky Women Writers Conference and then producing the winning script. Balagula got on board, and its directors and conference leaders decided Wallace would be a great celebrity judge for the competition.
Wallace agreed, so a panel of five judges — Williams; Ryan Case, Balagula's other co-artistic director; award-winning playwright and University of Kentucky associate theater professor Herman Daniel Farrell III; conference director Julie Kuzneski Wrinn; and Herald-Leader contributing theater critic Candace Chaney — read through the 168 scripts submitted to the competition. They sent Wallace three finalists, from which she chose Year of the Rabbit by Keliher Walsh of Los Angeles as the winner. The play will receive its world premiere by Balagula in March.
But with the recent involvement with Wallace and with the playwright planning to attend the conference, it seemed a good time to put up a production of One Flea Spare.
"Naomi Wallace is totally amazing, first of all because I can tell that she is a poet," Williams says. "The script — the structure of it, the essence of it — is extremely poetic. It is simultaneously clear and there's this misty vagueness about it that is extremely poetic.
"The language is awesome because it's rhythmical, it's beautiful."
And it's set during the 1665 plague in London, focusing on class conflict.
In the play, a couple of vagrants take refuge in the home of a wealthy couple during the plague, forcing them to all stay in the home for a month. During that time, their loyalties fracture, and social statuses that once meant everything become irrelevant. Williams likens it to her experiences after the nuclear power plant disaster at Chernobyl in her native Ukraine.
"It's about limbo time when the bridge between the past and future breaks, and all the organizations of class structure disappear," she said.
Technically, Williams and Case worked with Wallace on the playwrighting competition, Williams says, but they have not communicated with the writer, who will be in town for the women writers conference, which starts Sept. 15, the day after Flea closes.
Williams says she didn't really want to talk to Wallace about the show before directing it.
"Once your baby is released and it's produced in different theaters, you should expect that different theaters will read it differently, and you should be curious as to how it is," says Williams, who has been told that Wallace will attend a performance. "She might like it, she might hate it. To me, that still would not be the indication of whether the play was a good production or a bad production. Whether the audience is engaged or not would be my answer."
Williams says she doesn't know what Wallace intended to say in writing the script, "but I know what I read.
After the production, though, Williams does hope to sit down with Wallace and compare notes.