note: entire contents copyright 2012 by Richard Pacheco
The Gamm Theatre brings George Orwell’s dark classic “1984” to grim and grimy life onstage in a production that is compelling, riveting and uncommonly dark despite its occasional touches of humor. George Orwell labored his entire life against the totalitarian state in his works and ironically enough his name is now associated with that dark, menacing body politic.
Written in 1949, Orwell’s book (in Nick Lane’s stage adaptation) takes this dark and hopeless world to new depths. Here, the state is everything and individuals are mere pawns, their feelings, thoughts, and even memories are disposable. Dare to challenge the party line and you put your life and mental well-being in jeopardy. It is a dark world of menace and despair, a world of constant betrayals and not knowing who to trust, a place were children turn in their parents and lovers turn on each other under torture and relentless indoctrination.
Big Brother, that omnipresent specter of a father figure is always present. Think what you are told or else, you will be cured followed by an inevitable death, a hopeless state with non escape. With Doublethink the language shrinks in words and meanings, always simplifying to eliminate nuances of meaning.
Jim O’Brien is Winston Smith a man on a journey of rebellion in spite of himself. He find himself slipping into rebellion when he buys a journal to write his thought in, away from the prying eyes of omnipresent monitor which oversees them all. Mr. O’Brien is elegant and awkward in his journey to individualism and love in a world which tolerates neither. It’s a finely honed performance, full of alternating confidence and doubt, of hope and despair.
The other actors play multiple roles, from the almost Greek style Chorus of narrators to many of Winston’s colleagues in the ministry where Doublethink prevails and the Thought Police oversee everything.
Georgia Cohen is Julia and a host of other characters. As Julia she is Winston’s love interest, a young woman of vitality and daring, passionate and determined. She captures a fine blend between gentleness and vigor. It is a sharply etched performance as she follows or perhaps leads Winston down the dangerous path to individuality.
Richard Noble likewise does multiple roles. At one point he is the ever passionate, stalwart party supporter, Parsons. Parsons is a man who at least outwardly believes everything along party lines with vigor and conviction. He is also O’Brien who might be high up in the resistance, a man who allies himself with Winston. Mr. Noble offers some well defined differences in his varied characters, all portrayed with zest and conviction.
Casey Seymour Kim is also one of the narrators and serves as Winston’s wife, and mother. She shifts between each character with grace and ease. As Winston’s wife she is aloof and distant. As his mother she is warm and engaging.
Rounding out the cast is Jed Hancock-Brainerd who is a narrator, a technician, and the ever elusive Goldstein, leader of the resistance. He is energetic and ardent in his roles.
Director Tony Estrella keeps the Nick Lane adaptation moving along rapid and with disturbing effects throughout and with its share of humor as well in this dark, dismal world. Some of the narrator movements are almost choreography and highly effective.
Jessica Hill's set is just right. It is a mixture of technology and decay, flat screen televisions and decrepit plaster walls, crumbling like individuality. Marilyn Salvatore’s costumes are the right mixture of totalitarian bland. The lighting by Matthew Terry and sound by Charles Cofone, video by Mike Jones, and sound and video design by David Roy bring the final elements to bring this vividly to life. All these elements and aptly and impressively blended together into a coherent whole.
This is a sharp and vivid production, extremely well done on all fronts and getting a well deserved standing ovation at the end. While the message might be a bit overdone in its message, it is still powerful and lasting in its effect.
It is a bold statement still, after so many years, and one particularly striking in our current country --- with things like the Patriot Act, and NDAA which allows the political assassination of Americans with no evidence whatsoever and no trial. It is a grim reminder to us what can happen. As Benjamin Franklin once wrote, those who would sacrifice their freedom for security will eventually lose both.
It will be presented at the Gamm Theatre, 172 Exchange Street, Pawtucket until May 17. You can buy tickets online at: http://gammtheatre.org/ or call the box office at: 401-723-4266. Ticket prices from $34 to premium reserved for $42. Note that convenience fees range from $3.75 to $4.75 depending on performance.