George Orwell’s 1984 more timely than ever

It was a great book, a brilliant movie, and a fine play adapted by Robert Owens, Wilton E. Hall Jr., and Wiliam A. Miles, Jr. Best of all, George Orwell’s 1984 is enjoying a wonderful production at the Sherman Playhouse. Kevin Sosbe’s insightful direction spotlights each dramatic moment with unrelenting focus on government control. It’s almost spooky to see how Orwell’s 1984, written in 1948, is more timely than ever. However, it is a theatrical treat to see Sosbe’s chilling vision, an echo of Orwell’s vision, presented live in a truly  outstanding production.

When the play opens, history is being rewritten according to the controlling government’s wishes. The old history is destroyed. Language, which is key in controlling a population is Newspeak. It is confusing to people. Don’t be surprised if a shiver goes up the back of your neck with this. Look how our “politically correct” language gets people in all sorts of trouble and how careful people are today about verbiage. In 1984, surveillance is also crucial to maintaining power. In 2015, surveillance is a click away via our cell phones, iPads, and PCs.

Orwell’s concept, described as a dystopian fictional world, is the complete opposite of a perfectly utopian society. Audiences see that the officials in the government have the more utopian lifestyle with “privileges” that the rest of society does not have. The government is the elite class. Well, that should give pause.

The thought of “Big Brother” watching one’s every move and listening to every word spoken is no longer far-fetched. Walk into any department or grocery store and you’re being closely observed. Now even the police are wearing cameras! Of course, all of this has to do with power and government control. The people in 1984 no longer have a voice. They are manipulated and if they commit the crime of thinking, then they are severely punished. In Orwell’s totalitarian world, love is forbidden. That’s one of the primary offenses that gets Winston Smith into trouble. First he thinks and then he falls in love. Those are far-too-human qualities. He’s doomed.

Bringing home the action is a dynamite cast that features Denise James and Vicki Sosbe as Loudspeaker Voices that contribute to the dehumanized atmosphere. These two actors sit in control rooms at opposite ends of the stage. They are so alike, they might as well be twins. No, they might as well be robots. Bruce Tredwell as Syme and Kit Colbourn as Parsons are almost zombie-like in their obedience. They don’t miss a step in the impeccable timing of the play. Alex Echevarria as Winston Smith is so good that you want to cheer him on. You actually feel for this threatened character. Maya Daley, Steve Stott, Chris Marker and Viv Berger not only define their characters, but become them.

Candy Phypers as Julia, Winston’s lover and a rebel, captures the joy of being in love. Her smile is contagious. John Taylor and Kevin Sosbe provide the voices of Big Brother and Goldstein, while Mary-Genevieve Maison carries the role of Gladys well. Noel Desiato, an exceptionally fine character actor, steps into the role of the Landlady. Her performance is exemplary. Here’s an actress who not only wears her costume from the inside out, but has the ability to change the expression on her face to such an extent as to look completely different from one character to the next.

Overall, kudos are extended to this exceptional cast and crew. The set looks simpler than it is. David White’s sound design is terrifyingly terrific. As soon as those loudspeakers go on, we know some character is in trouble. Al Chiappetta’s lighting design is also spot on as are Denise James’ amazing prison-like costumes.

If you’ve read the book or seen the movie, you won’t want to miss this production. If you never got around to reading the book or seeing the movie, then this is a production that you must see. It plays weekends through April 25. Box office: 860- 354-3622.

Joanne Greco Rochman is an active member in The American Theatre Critics Association.  She welcomes comments. Contact: [email protected]

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