I never got to read the George Orwell novel, 1984, in school. Perhaps the story of a totalitarian world which controls every part of society and its people hit a little close to home for my teachers? Anyway, sitting down for the revival of1984 at The Actor’s Gang is an exciting way of being introduced to a novel that has become entrenched and familiar in our modern lives. It speaks about our sense of distrust in the media and in the government. It talks about how the idea of human love may be the ‘greatest revolutionary act.’ It asks us about where our lines of loyalty and individuality are drawn.
There are many challenges to overcome anytime a play is based on an existing source material. The production has to meet the expectations of those who love the original and those to whom the story is brand new. Also, this is a revival of the Actor’s Gang previous and widely toured production. There are bound to be comparisons. So, the bar is high.
This production embodies all things that are good about the Actor’s Gang and, in many ways, all things that are good about live theater. The set is minimalist which allows the actors to engage the audience’s imagination. The script is aggressive in pulling the audience into the story. The sense of space and location are conveyed mostly by the movement of actors on stage and a light to represent the eye of Big Brother. Tim Robbins’ assured direction uses six actors to create walls and rooms through militaristic movements around the space and then just as easily breaks through the walls to enact the story of Winston Smith. The production is about Winston’s interrogation. His story is told as a mode of confession with parts read directly from Winston’s diary and parts re-enacted by the party members in front of him.
All the actors are superb. In the best sense, you cannot separate one actor from the company. Each actor has superb technical control over a dense set of words and ideas. The company works together to create a world which, not even the imprisoned Winston is allowed to see anymore. They fill the story with character and vulnerability. And there is never a let up in the dread, the threat and the oppression. I was looking, desperate as Winston, for the way to a happy ending.
For me, to whom the story is only familiar, this production was an engaging, thoughtful story with a edge to it . For someone, to whom the story is a favorite, this faithful adaptation is bound to capture the feeling and flavor of the book. For those who have seen the Actor’s Gang production before, see it again and see what new thoughts and feelings come forward. I will say that it is unfortunate, in a world of the 99% and prime time entertainment named after Big Brother and SuperPACs, that we cannot find the words to comment on our own time. Maybe a step away, a little distance, allows us to keep our defenses down and to look into the mirror that is held before us. We should all applaud the opportunity that theater gives us to do this and we should applaud the Actor’s Gang a little louder for doing it so well.
The Actors’ Gang
9070 Venice Blvd.
Culver City, CA 90232
Through March 24th
Thurs-Sat. 8:00 pm