Totally totalitarian


By George Orwell
Stage adaptation by Robert Owens; Wilton E. Hall, Jr.; and William A. Miles, Jr.
Directed by Stephanie Barton-Farcas
Nicu's Spoon, Inc.
The Bank Street Theater
155 Bank St. (866-468-7619)
Equity showcase (closes Apr. 27)
Review by Adam Cooper

In this nightmarish world the following are true: the country is led by a shadowy oligarchy of ultra-rich, omnipotent men whose agenda is to accumulate more power and more wealth at the expense of the masses. This government wages war without end against enemies unknown, employs cutting-edge technology to spy on and intimidate its citizenry into submission, and labels any criticism or dissent as treasonous. It is a society where citizens live in ignorance and fritter away their lives through mindless distractions, where citizens are encouraged to report on each other to the authorities, and where citizens deny their own perceptions with the assistance of a monolithic media that spews out mind-numbing pro-government untruths and inverts the meaning of words to confuse and control thought. While these conditions may aptly describe the United States under George W. Bush, they also depict life in Oceania under Big Brother as featured in Nicu's Spoon's timely dramatization of George Orwell's magnum opus, 1984.

Barely hacking out a miserable existence under IngSoc, or English Socialism, is anti-hero Winston Smith (Daniel Rappaport), whose only pleasure is writing articles for the government's newspaper. In his work he invents news, covers up truth, legitimizes lies, and rewrites history as required by the Party and Big Brother. Emboldened by love from fellow comrade Julia (Natily Blair) and by a nascent yearning to overthrow the Party, Smith embarks on a forbidden life of a secret romance and societal subversion through his budding membership in the Brotherhood. Hopes for rebellion are dashed when Inner Party confidant O'Brien (David Marantz) ensnares Smith in the midst of his treasonable acts. Having fallen prey to the Thought Police and been deposited in the Ministry of Love, Smith undergoes O'Brien's conversion treatment, in which he must fight the ultimate struggle for preservation of his psyche.

While Orwell's warning of a quintessential society of cruelty is apropos under Bush's New World Order, this amateurish production failed to live up to the spirit of the text. The adaptation was fundamentally flawed. The playscript was a cobbling together of familiar Oceanic slogans such as "freedom is slavery" and Orwellian concepts such as doublethink and thoughtcrime, coupled with contemporary melodrama and unrealistic banter. Key components of the plot such as Winston's diary-writing were removed, while silly condensations like placing Julia in Winston's department were unfortunately inserted. Characterizations from the book were eviscerated and distorted in this dramatization, engendering little of the honest humanity so essential for a dramatic struggle in a hopeless world.

Direction (Stephanie Barton-Farcas) and the actors' performances were also culpable in this show's failure to realize Orwell's horrific vision. The production's world suggested youngsters pretending at their worst nightmare. Unrealized were the vital ingredients of terror, menace, love, and total despair. Also unhelpful were the peppy performances by many of the actors, who treated getting tortured and killed as a parental punishment. Along with Rappaport and Blair's bewildered, childlike portrayals, Parsons (Mary Holmstrom) was reduced to a pouty brown-noser, while O'Brien became a mischievous, sadistic brat. Consequently, only the final forlorn meeting between Smith and Julia realized any dramatic momentum.

Technical design for this production universally went for obvious and mundane choices. Costumes (Stephanie Barton-Farcas) were unimaginative dark jumpsuits, while sound (Sarah Gromko) and set design (Michael F. Kurtz) suggested New Age sterility. A more inspired adaptation of Orwell's vision can be found in the film version of 1984 featuring Richard Burton and John Hurt.

(Also starring Dirk Smile, Gregg Mozgala, Melanie Boland, Jennifer Stokes, Stephanie Barton-Farcas, and Tony VonHalle.)

Box Score:

Writing: 0
Directing: 0
Acting: 0
Sets: 1
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2003 Adam Cooper