Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
AIRDATE: NOVEMBER 7, 2008
1984. The year is long gone, but the image it evokes still makes your blood run cold. Much of what George Orwell conjured in his 1948 novel has come to pass. Doublespeak is a daily political reality; the NSA can wiretap at will. Big Brother is indeed watching. And during the era of anti-intellectualism from which we’re hopefully emerging, Ignorance was Strength. The other oxymoronic Orwellian maxims that adorn the OnStage Playhouse are the mind-bending ‘War is Peace’ and ‘Freedom is Slavery.’ There are even highly convincing posters plastered to the walls, to remind you to think the way you’re told.
This adaptation of the dystopian classic was written in 1963, but it remains eerily relevant, clearly conveying the story of Winston Smith, a low-level functionary in a totalitarian superstate . He lives in London and works in the ironically named Ministry of Truth, where his job is to expunge facts and rewrite history. He watches as a co-worker gets ‘disappeared,’ designated a ‘non-person.’ And he seems to be stalked by a woman named Julia. When they finally meet, they connect as kindred souls, among the few who still have a soul — and a functioning, rational mind. They declare their mutual love, join the underground resistance and have clandestine rendezvous where Big Brother can’t see them. But it doesn’t last for long. They’re ratted out for Thought-Crime, in a world where turning your neighbor in is a meritorious act. They’re taken to – where else? — The Ministry of Love, where they’re tortured, brainwashed, forced to renounce everything they believe in, including each other. It’s still a harrowing cautionary tale of bureaucracy and autocracy run amok, especially chilling in this election season.
OnStage Playhouse has mounted a gripping, compelling production; the commitment of director and actors is palpable. The pace was a tad slow on opening night, but the emotional climate and colorless environs are aptly unsettling. The underlings wear unicolor coveralls and the Inner Party wears black military fatigues. The pre-show slide presentation, that explains details of the world we’re about to enter, is didactic and unnecessary; the play, which opens and closes with Winston’s diary entry (“From a dead man, Greetings”) makes the situations and relationships obvious and unambiguous. But the slideshow’s final assertion of timeliness, warning of the imminent arrival of Big Brother-like two-way communication on cable TV this winter, is enough to give you the cold shivers.
Mike McCullock has directed with assurance, though he shies away from showing much of the physical violence or abuse that heightens the tension in the original story. But Rob Conway and Nicole Hagameyer are riveting as the lovers. And Bob Christianson perfectly captures the terrifying impassivity of the interrogator. The message comes through loud and clear: ‘Who controls the past controls the future.’ I hope you voted.
“George Orwell’s 1984” continues through November 29 at the Onstage Playhouse in Chula Vista .
©2008 PAT LAUNER