Time has long moved past the actual date of George Orwells’ classic novel, 1984, yet the future it envisioned when written in 1948 seems more prescient than ever.
Director Robert McNamara makes a lot out of a little in this production. Set in the small environs of Atlas’ Lab II black box theater, the audience is so close as to be a part of the play. Yet the exemplary, collaborative set design, lighting, and the superb projections both broaden the scope of The Party, which dominates the world of the play, and miniaturizes its unhappy citizens. Everything is above their heads, both physically and literally, and the child/scolding parent reference which recurs within the play’s hour and forty minutes is a powerful one.
1984 is a difficult piece to bring to a stage. Indeed, being familiar with the book is a decided asset, particularly in its first fifteen minutes, which takes off at a gallop, potentially leaving some audience members behind. With little by way of preamble, a pedantic voiceover gives us a confusing history, while the protagonist Winston Smith (the very excellent Oscar Ceville) is verbally assaulted by what turns out to be the Party. Indeed, it’s a literal cocktail party, which debates the written and rewritten Party ‘history’ of Smith’s very existence in the first place.
Director McNamara has been blessed with a more than capable cast, including Ceville, Ron Litman as O’Brien, the powerful party official to whom Winston turns, and Karoline Troger as Winston’s love Julia. Yet at times the script isn’t clear enough to follow the storyline if you aren’t familiar with the book.
That’s a great pity, for the burgeoning humanity shown by Winston as he slowly comes to realize the enormity of lies perpetrated by Big Brother is well played by Ceville. His nearly expressionless face belies his inner turmoil; that’s a hard trick for an actor to pull off on a stage (it’s easier on-screen), but the small space helps in this regard.
closes May 27, 2018
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At least one of the directing choices seemed off at best. As Julia and Winston quietly voice their love for each other, a bed noisily and hilariously rolled into view, completely ruining what was otherwise a tender moment. It seemed an unnecessarily cheap bit of business, frankly, and below McNamara’s usual standards.
But there are scenes of great power, such as Colin Davies’ portrayal of a proud father of an unseen seven year old, who spies on her parents and ultimately sends her own father to his doom. This scene is portrayed multiple times, with Davies’ pride turning into near hysteria at the very end.
Much of what Orwell prophesied has come eerily true: dictatorships routinely erase whole individuals and revolutions out of the history books, and to be ‘unpeopled’ is the ultimate destruction in Winston Smith’s fictional world of Oceania.
Many of Orwell’s original phrases have migrated into common usage: “doublethink”; “Big Brother is watching you”; “A minority of one”; “Thought Police”. Indeed, an Orwellian future is a dystopian one, where the power of the ruling party overcomes the rights of the individuals, and truth is bent and reshaped. The Thought Police, as it turns out, are us: a self-censoring society, bound by ever-stricter surveillance of ourselves: political correctness run amok with its own power.
Perhaps that’s just the fake news of the day, but it all hits pretty close to home.
1984, adapted from George Orwell’s novel by Robert Icke and Duncan MacMillan . Director: Robert McNamara . Cast: Oscar Ceville as Winston; Ron Litman as O’Brien; Karoline Troger as juulia; Buck O’Leary as Host/Charrington/Ensemble/ ; Gary DuBreuiel as Martin/Ensemble; Kim Curtis as Syme/Ensemble; Colin Davies as Father/Parsons/Ensemble; Sisel Bakkewn sa Mother/Ensemble; Karin Rosnizeck as Winston’s Mother/Ensemble; Jesse Marciniak as Thought Criminal/Ensemble; Danielle Scott as Child/Ensemble . Dramaturg: Gabriele Jakobi . Assistant Director: Natalia Gleason . Sound Designer: Denise Rose . Set Designer: April Joy Vester . Lighting Designer: Johnathan Alexander . Costume Designer: Madeline Belknap . Projection Designer/Video/Sound Producer: Jesse Marciniac . Projection Content Creator: Johnathan Dahm Robertson . Technical Director: Jeff Johnson . Fight Choreographer: Paul Gallagher . Stage Manager/Props: Hannah Fogler. Produced by Scena Theatre . Reviewed by Jill Kyle-Keith.