Brainwashed and hung out to dry

A Clockwork Orange

From a novel by Anthony Burgess
Directed by Joe Tantalo
Godlight Theatre Company
Manhattan Theatre Source
177 MacDougal St. (501-4751)
Equity showcase (closes October 19)
Review by David Mackler

Poor Alex. Just your everyday ordinary anarchic Beethoven-loving young punk. All he wants to do is hang out with his droogs and commit random acts of mayhem, rape, and murder, beautifully scored by dear old Ludwig Van. But fate (he gets caught) and a repressive government intervene and he's subjected to The Treatment: a new untested procedure that has unfortunate side effects. What's a young punk to do?

One of the achievements of Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange is that it actually creates a measure of sympathy for Alex, and the Godlight Theatre Company's production (the play's New York premiere) accomplishes this well. In the small confines of the Manhattan Theatre Source's small playing area, it is difficult to watch Alex being reprogrammed and Pavlovized without cringing at his pain -- and this in spite of his previous mayhem. It's a dare and a challenge to the audience.

It's a challenge to the director (Joe Tantalo) and his cast as well. The play was superbly, and stylishly, staged, again in contrast to what's happening. Slow motion made fights look dreamlike in spite of the raped and dead left behind. With the cast dressed in black, the orange wigs on the women added a garish, cartoonish/Halloweenish quality that again removed it from reality. But anguish became real as a man watched his girlfriend being raped, or a head was smashed with a statue of Beethoven. It was quite a lot to take in, particularly without the distance of a movie screen or the choice to put a book down.

Yet the play is clearly a literary piece -- word games abound, and what the characters are saying should be listened to closely. Huge credit must be given to Kenneth King's energy and intensity as Alex, as well as his lingual dexterity with Burgess's combination of borrowings from Latin and childish wordplay. But the real meat came from some spectacular and incisive playing by members of the ensemble -- 10 people playing nearly 30 parts -- most particularly Josh Renfree's Chaplain, Randy Falcon's Pete (most especially when the former droog is reformed -- he got the only laugh of the evening), and Jason MacDonald, riveting (and nearly unrecognizable) in all his parts, but especially as the Minister in his apparently unfinished tailcoat (costumes designed by Christian Couture).

And in spite of there being no set other than the chairs along a wall that held props, costumes, and actors, the extraordinary lighting (designed by Jason Rainone) delineated -- no, it practically furnished the stage with specificity and mood. And the ravishing sound provided by Andrew Recinos enveloped the actors and audience in both the glories of Beethoven and Walter Carlos-style modernistic sounds.

And yet -- and yet -- there was an undeniable coldness to the whole presentation. In spite of the terrific theatricality, A Clockwork Orange is awfully unpleasant. Being pulled in several directions leaves an audience shaken, not moved, but that in itself is quite an accomplishment. After all, Kubrick's version is nobody's favorite film, but no one has quite forgotten it either. Same thing here.

Also with Micheal Ariemma, Rob Maitner, Ryan Harrington, Catherine Dyer, Sophia Holman, Charlene Taub, and Julie Torsiello.

Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing: 2
Acting: 2
Sets: 1
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 2

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Copyright 2002 David Mackler