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"1984" comes to the Actors’ Gang with elegance and torture Natalia Evdokimova | Sat, Mar 17 2012 01:01 PM

 

 "Freedom is slavery. War is peace. Ignorance is strength." These mottos line the telescreen walls in George Orwell's classic novel 1984. In the book, a middle-aged man, Winston Smith (VJ Foster), falls in love and joins a clandestine revolution, and because of his crimes against the totalitarian government, Smith is tortured into submission. Masterfully adapted to the stage, Tim Robbins' 1984 brings the dystopian future to a bleak reality. The desolate set design complements the non-traditional interpretation, as does the excellent casting for the production's Partymembers.

Rather than retelling 1984 in chronological order, Michael Gene Sullivan chooses to rehash the story through Smith's tribunal and subsequent torture. Party members act out his diary's entries, while the telescreens forcefully encourage Smith to "be precise" and to confess his transgressions. Seamlessly transitioning from one entry to the next, the play asks hard-hitting questions about the conditions of the present, the risk of authoritarian government and the dangers of love.

Since the Partymembers must act out the diary's entries, they take on many characters. Impersonating the intellectual Syme and the dim-witted Parsons, Robert Turton and Will Thomas McFadden bring much needed humor to a play filled with grim subject matter. Their performances are lively, compelling and entertaining. Able to quickly change character, Turton and McFadden adapt to the scene, ultimately returning to their Oceania-loving roots as loyal Partymembers.

Simple and elegant, the set design captures the overall feeling of the production. The black floors and panels expertly compose the interrogation room. Focusing the attention on the actors, the set design remains structured and balanced throughout the play. As a result, human emotions are at the forefront, and the actors hide nothing from the audience.

Rich in themes of the absence of free will and the menace of totalitarianism, 1984 concludes, "He who controls the present controls the past. He who controls the past controls the future." To further engrave this mantra into the audience, Molly O'Neill steps out of character at play's end and directly addresses the audience. Reading a passage from 1984's appendix, she invites the audience to ponder its significance. Not trusting that the audience can do its own thinking, the play tactlessly spells out its message, hoping that the audience can learn the play's overall lesson. A more resounding ending to the play would have been Foster's agonizing yells of "I love you, Big Brother." That way, the scene's chills could still linger in the theater.

Highly poignant, 1984 remains a classic for a reason: the themes are timeless. This interpretation of 1984 will also stand the test of time because it reminds the audience that even now, Big Brother may be watching.

Playing at the Ivy Substation, 1984 will continue its run until March 24. Tickets range from $15 to $25. The Ivy Substation is located at 9070 Venice Blvd. in Culver City.

 

Natalia Evdokimova has been involved with theater throughout her life and has reviewed theatrical productions for local and citywide publications since 2005.

 

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