The year is 1984…or is it? In a world where Big Brother is always watching, the Thought Police monitor every word and action, and yesterday's news is literally rewritten to correspond with today's most pressing political concerns, even the most basic information – names, dates, key historical events – is distressingly unreliable.
The Sandra Feinstein-Gamm Theatre's intimate setting entirely immerses the audience in the midst of this deeply troubling environment. From political slogans scrawled over the walls to the all-seeing eye of Big Brother, staring unblinkingly from flat-screen monitors, the nightmarish oppression of George Orwell's dystopian world springs most chillingly to life.
This stage adaptation of Orwell's famed novel, 1984, makes its American debut at The Gamm. The story's protagonist, Winston Smith (Jim O'Brien), finds his worldview increasingly at odds with Big Brother's ideology of ceaseless surveillance, relentless conformity and unending warfare. Winston's every act of rebellion, from keeping a diary to falling in love (both forbidden in his homeland, the super-state Oceania), places his life – and, more chillingly, his continued control over his mind – ever more perilously in jeopardy.
O'Brien compellingly conveys Winston's inner turmoil through even the smallest actions. His furtive and frantic scrawling in his private diary compliments his public flickers of hesitation and uncertainty over Big Brother's spin-filled news flashes and ever-tightening control of language. O'Brien likewise infuses Winston's clandestine romance with fellow covert nonconformist, Julia (Georgia Cohen), with elation, even as an incessant undercurrent of fear and discovery haunts their every scene. Winston and Julia's affair also emphasizes the apathy surrounding his marriage to Katherine (Casey Seymour Kim), a woman so conditioned by Big Brother that Winston's small offering of flowers, a gift he "thought" she'd enjoy, brings danger of the Thought Police first and foremost to her mind.
Cohen and Kim, along with Jed Hancock-Brainerd and Richard Noble, each portray a number of characters in 1984. The foursome serves as a kind of chorus, narrating the play's scenes and shedding light into Winston's innermost thoughts. Cohen and Hancock-Brainerd are darkly humorous as the Parsons children, one moment cruelly taunting O'Brien's longsuffering Winston, the next expressing a deeply unnerving and utterly ferocious disappointment that they couldn't attend a public hanging in person. In this scene, the actors clearly communicate the ubiquitous, desensitized attitudes towards hate and violence that constitute the social structure in Oceania.
Kim seamlessly transitions from the hardest characters – prison guard, anger-filled citizen, indifferent cafeteria worker – to Winston's gentle, loving mother and the meek Mrs. Parsons. Kim also has a truly lovely singing voice, amply demonstrated in her interpretation of a Prole (or working-class) woman whose simple song brings hope, however briefly, to Winston and Julia.
Noble breathes life into an extremely diverse bunch of characters, each brilliantly distinct in their portrayal. He flawlessly transitions from the mild-mannered and ever-anxious Mr. Parsons to the traitorous, cold-blooded party member, Mr. O'Brien, inspiring pity in one moment, repulsion the next.
The actors are aided in their storytelling with a judicious application of multimedia technology. These audio-visual effects compliment the narrative, never overshadowing, and have just enough of a stage presence to bolster an awareness of the pervasive presence of the "telescreen" – the omniscient eyes and ears of Big Brother's Thought Police.
1984 is undeniably thought-provoking and – as the twenty-first century becomes daily more concerned with issues of electronics, privacy and identity – uncomfortably relevant in today's world.
The Gamm presents George Orwell's 1984 at the Sandra Feinstein-Gamm Theatre, 172 Exchange Street, Pawtucket, RI. This production runs through May 27, 2012 and ticket prices range from $34 to $42. Discount rates are available for subscribers, groups, seniors and students. To purchase tickets, contact the box office at (401) 723-4266 or visit The Gamm online at www.gammtheatre.org.