In the age of the Patriot Act, terms like Big Brother, Thought Police and Newspeak aren't just spooky soundbites that demonstrate George Orwell's prescience. They're scary fucking realities.
But there's another side to Orwell's dystopian novel 1984 that those who brandish it as prophecy should consider, something Grant Morrison articulated in The Invisibles: it can be viewed as "political pornography drooled over by those who talk of freedom yet thrill to depictions of absolute control." There is something irresistible about total control—whether it's in the bedroom, battlefield or boardroom. And one wonders if the recent success of films that have capitalized, literally, on Orwellian fears—V for Vendetta is merely the latest—has less to do with championing the freethinking individual than with letting us sate some deep-rooted yearning for order and stability at any cost.
Whatever the reason, Orwell's novel remains haunting, disturbing and an absolute necessity for anyone who wants ammunition in the fight against state-sanctioned terror. It'd be great if a theatrical adaptation of his novel felt equally haunting and timely; unfortunately, the Market Fresh Theatre's current production doesn't.
For which we can blame the script: this adaptation is one of the first, a 1963 reconstitution by Robert Owens, Wilton E. Hall Jr. and William A. Miles Jr. Well-intentioned, it focuses on the love story between Winston Smith (a believable but far too youthful-looking Tim Rizley) and his tragic love Julia (the aptly named and highly talented Heaven Peabody). The result feels stagy, talky and ossified. Working 20 years before the actual calendar year of 1984, the adaptors had no idea where the world was going. They may have guessed 1984would be a literary masterpiece, but we know that it's become an astonishing commentary on social and political reality.
Armed with that wisdom, it's hard not to feel that this 1984is more a museum piece than an urgent piece of theater. Sunny Peabody's direction is not without merit. He does a marvelous job integrating film into the proceedings, and he elicits fine work from most of the actors, particularly Christopher Tillerman's ominous O'Brian.
This is a faithful production of a faithful adaptation of a novel whose prescience has outlasted every dramatic and cinematic treatment: an absolutely commendable choice for a new theater company to mount as its first full-fledged production. But there is far more in 1984than this 1984gets.
1984 AT MARKET FRESH THEATRE AT GOTHIC MOON PRODUCTION, 525 W. PALM ST., ORANGE, (714) 210-5840; WWW.MARKETFRESHTHEATRE.COM. THURS.-SAT., 8 P.M. THROUGH APRIL 1. $10-$15.