A de rigueur standing ovation rang down the curtain at the matinee performance of “1984” that I recently attended. But as the audience began to straggle out after a long 91 intermissionless minutes, a teenage voice from the balcony (upstairs was packed with high-schoolers) put the experience in perspective. “The book was better,” he said to his mates and anyone else within earshot.
I haven’t read George Orwell’s novel since prep school. The 1984 movie with John Hurt and Richard Burton is another distant memory. But I agree with the young theatergoer’s assessment: Orwell’s language arouses and disturbs the imagination in a way that fake blood and gore on a stage cannot. Still …
By the time Winston, the hero, gets to Room 101, the infamous torture chamber in the Ministry of Love, audiences are squirming. The violence, staged with let-’er-rip precision, is as graphic as anything I’ve ever seen on Broadway. Powerful stuff, but undermined somewhat by a wet coda to the effect that the people have revolted, seized power and overthrown the Party. The play’s authors may have the present government in Washington in mind, but I’ll only go so far as to say that doublethink and fake news may have something in common.
So, war is peace, and who controls the past controls the future, and Big Brother is watching us on the Great White Way. But take a gander at another import from the U.K. that's heading to Off-Broadway in the fall. “A Clockwork Orange” looks to out-1984 “1984”. Check out the snaps below and the YouTube clip from the London production, adapted from the Anthony Burgess novel and Stanley Kubrick movie: www.youtube.com/watch?v=9DvgiAk99p0. The season heats up.
“1984,” Hudson Theatre, 139-141 W. 44th St., 212.239.6200, revisedtruth.com. Tickets on sale thru Oct. 8, 2107
“A Clockwork Orange,” New World Stages, 340 W. 50th St., 212.239.6200, clockworkorangeplay.com. previews begin Sept. 2, 2017, opens Sept. 25, 2017, tickets on sale thru Jan. 6, 2018