Monday, February 22, 2016

A.R.T. Presents "1984" by George Orwell - A New Adaptation by Robert Icke and Duncan MacMillan

I read "1984" many years ago, but I have indelible recollections of the impact that this iconic novel had on me as a young reader trying to understand how the world works.  Robert Icke and Duncan MacMillanhave adapted the book to the stage in a production that is eerily relevant to the current political climate in America.  This current version, which comes to the A.R.T. after a successful run in London's West End, is gripping theater.

Each aspect of the drama that highlights aspects of totalitarianism and mind control kept causing me to reflect on Donald Trump's current Quixotic run for the presidency. He seems to have invented his own brand of Newspeak while Unpersoning Mexicans  and Muslims in ways that would have made Big Brother smirk with delight.   The beauty and genius of Orwell's work is that in painting a bleak picture of a dystopia in whichIgnorance Is Strength, he incorporates elements from historical totalitarian regimes on the Left and the Right.  Questions and issues that the author raised when he first penned the novel are still relevant today: the ethics and efficacy of torture, the role of the state vs. individual freedoms, the use of propaganda, the question of how to test a source of information to judge its accuracy, the nature of history, the value of the person.

The cast of eight are extraordinarily effective in creating the chilling atmosphere that Orwell envisioned.  They are:

Simon Coates as Parsons
Tim Dutton as O'Brien
Stephen Fewell as Charrington
Christopher Patrick Nolan as Martin
Ben Porter as Syme
Matthew Spencer as Winston
Mandi Symonds as Mrs. Parsons
Hara Yannas as Julia
Addison Oken as Child
Cast of "1984"
Through March 6
Photo by Ben Gibbs

The Set by Chloe Lamford is integral to the telling of the story, and it undergoes dramatic changes as Martin and Julia are confronted by the state and accused of Thought Crimes.  Equally crucial are the Lighting Design of Natasha Chivers, Sound Design of Tom Gibbons and Video by Tim Reid.

The current controversy that has erupted between Apple vs. the FBI over issues of cybersecurity are additional echoes of Orwell's theme that "Big Brother is watching." The play is not pleasant to watch, with graphic depictions of violence and torture, but it is bold in its ruthless examination of these timely and crucial issues.  Throughout the run of the play, which extends through March 6, A.R.T. will partner with Harvard Kennedy School's Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation to offer a series of post-performance discussions.

Come and find out at the end of this play if you still believe that 2+2=4!
American Repertory Theater Website

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