by Kevin Shaw | photos by Bill Simmers
When I was much younger (in the 1980’s), I used to fantasize about the future. Prince’s song “1999” seemed like an eternity away, but I just knew that by that time, we’d be flying around in our individual spaceships and science would have figured out the secret to immortality. We’d be able to teleport like they did on “Star Trek” and people would be living on the moon. Whatever the fantasy though, in short, it was always going to better than my current reality. I always assumed that as society advanced, it would get better over time. (Now that I’m much older, the future is not nearly as intoxicating—let’s just get through today, how about it?)
However, back in 1949, George Orwell’s vision for the future wasn’t nearly as optimistic. His
book, 1984, predicted a future in which civilization was constantly at war and society needed to think as one in order to survive. Considering 1949’s recent atrocities of WWII, it’s not hard to understand how he could have envisioned such a reality. He foresaw the need for the government to constantly monitor all activities of its citizens via a system referred to as “Big Brother” and to stifle any individual thought or behavior. In many and astonishing ways, Orwell was spot on in his predictions. He was correct that our private lives would one day be on full display and observed by others 24/7. He was also correct that all humans, at their core, would still be incredibly selfish and self-seeking individuals. However, just like “2 + 2 = 4,” he forgot to add the two predictions together. What he missed was that mankind’s obsession with itself would negate the need for “Big Brother” to install cameras and microphones everywhere to observe us at all times. No, our self-obsession/ego would drive us to broadcast ourselves via social media for the world to see—warts and all. Want to see what I’m eating for lunch today? Want to know what my doctor told me? Want to know what I really think about our government? Well, here ya go! Look at what I’m doing! Listen to what I’m thinking! Today’s world is a world of people wanting to show the world how unique they are—just like everybody else. We’re one large mass group consciousness all thinking we’re special or superior in some way. Our ego believes the façade while the rest of the world laughs at us. We’re all delusional, voyeuristic exhibitionists.
1984 explores man’s attempt to maintain that individuality, identify “true” reality and to be free. Thoughts lead to actions. Bad thought lead to bad actions, so if the government can
control thought, it can control actions. There is no more room for individuality or conflicting ideas. In order to maintain control, “Big Brother” is always watching and listening. Should a person stray, they will be tortured until their brain/thoughts fall back into line followed by a bullet to the back of the head. If that’s not enough, all records of existence will then be erased. Sounds like Utopia.
Circuit Playhouse’s production, under the astute direction of Courtney Oliver, packs a whole lot to think about in a short amount of time. It successfully waffles between external and internal perceptions while allowing for the questioning of everything. It takes you down an intellectual rabbit hole and leaves no room or time for emotions, lest you be left behind. It puts you on the cerebral defensive, identifying with the protagonist (Winston Smith) and looking for a way out that doesn’t exist. It argues for (and proves in this viewer’s standpoint) that trying to be unique and standing up for what is right is an exercise in futility and delusion. We, as individuals, often make little difference to the rest of the world. Our importance and usefulness to humanity is a figment of our own imaginations. Discouraging. Sobering. But, probably true.
Danny Crowe’s Winston Smith, as the man on a mission to resist the power, successfully
portrays the “every man” in society who believe he’s more, well, everything—more moral,
more intelligent, more creative, more motivated, more loving, etc. when in reality he’s not. He’s simply human. Just like a Japanese kamikaze pilot or a suicide bomber, he’s willing to do things most people are unwilling to do for the “cause,” only to be quickly forgotten and
“erased” having made no impact or impression on anyone. Crowe’s portrayal arcs nicely from valiant to pitiful.
Brooke Papritz offers up another fine portrayal as Julia, the double agent of love. She presents herself as a member of the anti-sex league while secretly sleeping with as many men as she can get her hands on (including Winston) to rebel against “Big Brother.” Her love for Winston ends up being her downfall.
Gregory W. Boller is completely unrecognizable as O’Brien—the emcee, not from, but in hell. He puts the “sad” in sadist as he actually makes compelling arguments for why resistance to the power is pathetically futile. Like Donald Trump, he reminds you why truth no longer matters and why surrender is the only key to survival.
The rest of the ensemble give strong performances, especially CJ Santo, the child in the story who represents the future. The best way to change the world is to reach the people when they’re young. Santo’s child is an obedient follower and eagerly partakes in the torture of Winston without hesitation. It’s powerfully disturbing.
Technically, this is one of Circuit Playhouse’s stronger shows. The combination of the movable set with projections by Phillip Hughen and sound design by Carter McHann perfectly place the audience in a dark, cold, cruel world without escape. The choreographed movements of the performers and sets puts us, the audience, squarely in the middle of a place you don’t want to be—Room 101—where only terrible things happen.
Although it’s a uniquely effective stage adaptation of a very popular book, I’m not sure it could be called “entertaining.” It’s about man’s inhumanity to man in order to survive. It’s, as the say in the play, “Doublethink”—the ability to hold two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accept both of them. Killing equates to living; Surrender equates to sanity; Torture leads to peace. There is indeed torture, violence and suffering in our world mixed with tenderness, creativity and harmony—all simultaneously. And, like a horrible train wreck, 1984 is an unwatchable experience that you just can’t stop watching.
Now through May 12th , 2019