Stage and Cinema film and theatre reviews
 

 

DYSTOPIA DONE RIGHT

 

picture - 1984Theater Review

by Andrew Turner

published March 27, 2009

 

1984

now playing off-Broadway at 59E59 Theater C

through April 19th

 

Let’s not beat around the bush. The Godlight Theatre Company production of George Orwell’s 1984, now playing at 59E59, might just be the best show you’ll see this season. Here’s why:

 

It’s crisp. No wasted elements here. Writer Alan Lyddiard’s adaptation of the classic novel is lean, powerful, and doesn’t pull punches.  Eighty minutes fly by before you know it. By the end, you’re so convinced that Big Brother is watching, you’re tight-wire tense and checking the shadows for hidden cameras.  

 

It’s cohesive.  It’s hard to find a flaw in this impressive production. From the technical proficiency to the way the usher whispers to you that if you get up from the performance you will not be allowed back in your seat, everything is in place. Lead actor Gregory Konow, who plays civil servant Winston Smith, delivers a brilliant and exhausting performance, careening through a startling range of emotions from ecstasy to despair to ennui to abject terror.

 

It’s current. Even though Orwell published his classic novel in 1949 and it’s set, well, in 1984, director Joe Tantalo does a masterful job of making the performance contemporary. To mimic the omnipresent flow of information we encounter in our daily lives he has four “telescreens” – leather clad women who look like Russian dominatrices – standing in the four corners of the theatre, constantly babbling propaganda. The plot unfolds in a non-linear fashion: starting with a torture scene, then vacillating between past and present. Sound effects crash around you and laser beam lighting beams down from ceiling-mounted projectors. Still, with all this risk-taking, you never get the sense that the director is being “arty”. Everything is there for a reason, and the result is electrifying.

 

My only quibble would be the physical space. The theatre was too tiny for a performance with this much gusto, and the seating was so cramped that there was barely enough room for my compact five-foot-nine frame. Seats are arranged in a circle so you are able to see the audience members sitting across from you. A purposeful artistic choice, no doubt, but it’s still distracting to watch someone picking their nose during a pivotal scene.  

 

But this is a show worth being uncomfortable for. Heck, maybe being uncomfortable is part of the experience. War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength. And this Dystopia is exactly where you want to be.

 

andrewturner @ stageandcinema.com

 

 
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