This article contains opinion.
Aquila Theatre brought “1984” to life on stage at Fisher Auditorium on Friday.
Based on George Orwell’s dystopian novel of the same name, this story was adapted for the theater by Michael Gene Sullivan. It focuses on fatalistic Winston Smith, a middle-class citizen of Oceania, who works for the Ministry of Truth.
Smith hates the totalitarian regime, called “Big Brother,” that watches every move its citizens make and has taken control of history and language.
In Oceania, free thought and individual expression are illegal. Smith’s job is to rewrite historical records to conform to Oceania’s ever-changing version of history. While at work, Smith meets the pragmatic Julia, a young woman that he suspects is a member of the Thought Police sent to spy on him.
Their subsequent interactions take the audience on a harrowing journey of fear, betrayal, love, paranoia and rebellion.
The play utilized its five actors, who each took on multiple roles. They held nothing back in their
performances and succeeded in sucking the audience into the dark world of Oceania. Their intense portrayals were punctuated by much-needed snippets of humor.
Reece Richardson’s depiction of Winston Smith was particularly heartbreaking. The use of a hospital gown as his only costume worked to underscore the hopelessness of his situation. One would have to be cold-blooded to not empathize with his character. Tora Alexander, who played Julia, was able to convincingly execute her character’s fake support of Big Brother.
The play was also masterfully directed by Desiree Sanchez. The amount of coordination between the actors and technical team needed to pull of a show like “1984” is immense. Her hard work, dedication and patience shone through as the play went off without a hitch.
The minimalism of the set and props accurately represented the bleak conditions of the play’s setting. Only one gray set was used, with the actors moving hard, metal benches around the stage as needed. A large television, referred to as a Telescreen, was ever-present hanging on a back wall. On it, when footage wasn’t being played, an eye watched the actors and audience.
Throughout the play, Smith was interrogated by a disembodied female voice that was cold and calculated. There was no obvious source of the voice, giving it a god-like impression of coming from everywhere at once. These design elements showed that there was truly no way to escape and nowhere to hide from Big Brother.
The lighting of the play was effectively used to transition scenes or highlight moments of violence. Costumes and makeup were kept clean and simple, calling back to the illegality of freedom of individual expression in Oceania.
Overall, I think the play was brilliant. It lends faces to Orwell’s characters and humanizes the novel’s important message. I would definitely recommend it to anyone that loves literature and the theater. It is an impactful and worthwhile play that is keeping “1984” from fading out of the mainstream.
However, I would make sure to read the novel before seeing the play, as it is fast-paced and does not include the context and background audience members may otherwise need to understand.