Saturday, October 26, 2019

2044? The Actors' Gang / Tim Robbins

Bob Turton, Tim Robbins, Will Thomas McFadden a…shley Randall

A world in constant conflict? 


Dystopian:  adj: "relating to or denoting an imagined state or society where there is great suffering or injustice."
n. "a person who imagines or foresees a state or society where there is great suffering or injustice."
Google it! It's just a click away. Or, are we living in Dystopia today? Certainly, George Orwell.. at least in his writing of 1984 was a 'dystopian.'

In 1949, Orwell,  at the age of 46, foresaw twenty-five years into the future.   Rejected for military service in WWII. He was a middle aged Brit who feared for his country and for the world.   In 1945 he published "Animal Farm", a biting satire imagining a society where some animals were more equal than others. What a concept!

The foreshadowing that Orwell brings in Michael Gene Sullivan's excellent adaptation for the stage in no small portion echoes our world in 2019. 
Of course, we all recall: Big Brother!   
The torture of Winston Smith.  
A revolution resisting and under attack as an entire society falls under 24/7 surveillance.  
"Reason" to one person is not Reason to another. 
Old friends at each others' throats for core beliefs that have been somehow skewed.  
"How many fingers am I holding up?" asks O'Brian to Smith.
The relentless barrage of propaganda in this Actors' Gang presentation, directed by Tim Robbins includes beautifully produced Breaking News Reports that boost the society of Big Brother. Hard to resist propaganda when backed by the Stars and Stripes, the proof that the story is real.

This Actors' Gang presentation is more than simply a play.  It's an immersive experience that involves the audience subjectively as well as objectively. It reflects a somewhat uncomfortable world from which we have just arrived right outside the theatre. The chilly parallel may be just a bit too real.

Two huge video screens at either end of the empty space present an ever changing 'eye' that watches us.  Four smaller 'telescreens' come to life as the voice of the mysterious O'Brian  booms.  Four Party Members (Tom Szymanski, Ethan Corn, Guebri VonOver and Bob Turton)  carry copies of Smith's dossier, his self damning diary. In time each PM will portray many different characters from Smith's confiscated diary.

Cihan Sahin's professionally produced telescreen commercials and news reports overwhelm us. The converted party members stand erect:  transfixed as the voice of O'Brian, booms or coddles from above.

To wax poetic seems at counter point to the dread predictions from seventy years gone by. Orwell,  a brilliant satirist, saw something in his crystal ball that the world is seeing now come to fruition. And, we're not done yet.  In 2019, thirty-five years post 1984, facial recognition has pegged me without my permission on Facebook. TSA "Security" at the airport becomes a nightmare if you dare to question authority.  Who are the Fascists?  

It might be like that old Pogo comic strip, "We have met the enemy and he is us."

What Robbins and his Actors' Gang do with this version of Orwell's 1984 (they have done this show many times in the past) employs new technology with old school Nuts and Bolts acting and directing.  As Winston Smith, Will Thomas McFadden, is discovered writhing in pain lying center stage;  the audience, inches from the action.  Party Members One, Two, Three and Four interrogate Smith in the Ministry of Love. Dressed in identical trim dark suits, no ties, these actors bring to life Smith's tormentors and morph to play a dozen others as the story progresses. 

Dedicated actors, the influence of style that smarts of Grotowski and Chaikin, quantum leap from Steven Kent and The Company Theatre allow deep character and text exploration at once bringing a chilling reality to life: allowing technique to shine without shame. 

This is not a fun show. The world around us today is literally on fire; questionable leadership in the USA finds us on a slippery slope, possibly circling the drain as a nation, though we are not completely the nation of Oceana ... yet.. The reminder that corrupt forces are not the stuff of fiction is what Robbins and The Actors' Gang bring to life and for those who care to see raw theatre done with perfection, supporting this prescient work should be a high priority. 

At the snack bar, the expensive treats are insulting. Chips at fifty bucks a pound!  
But, it goes to support the theatre. As it should. 

Adapted from George Orwell's novel by
Michael Gene Sullivan
Directed by Tim Robbins
The Actors' Gang
9070 Venice Blvd.
Culver City, CA 90232


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