By Valerie-Jean Miller | Oct. 30, 2019 | 6:17 PM
Written by George Orwell, Adapted by Michael Gene Sullivan, Directed by Tim Robbins
Now through December 7th
Based on the iconic novel by George Orwell, “1984″ is the story of Winston Smith, who has come to the attention of the state of Oceania, the authoritarian state. Initially written in 1949, meaning that it was projecting 35 years into the future at that time, it is uncanny, that, 35 years later, it is being presented yet once again, and, terrifyingly, it is probably more relevant than ever before. With the brutal soul-searching, diary-exposing help of four Party Members of “The Ministry of Truth,” and a maiming stun gun, Winston is forced to confess his Thoughtcrimes before an unseen questioner, and the audience (surrounding the square stage on all four sides; it’s almost as if they are secretly witnesses and jury) is up close and personal witnessing the torture and depredation being dealt to Mr. Smith.
He has gone against the powers that be, secretly loathing his job, which is to rewrite history for the masses, falling in love with a woman, (not allowed) writing books anonymously and writing down his truths in his diary. And so he will pay the ultimate price, but not until The Party puts him through the wringer, and hangs him out to dry.
As soon as you walk into the theatre, you are aware that you are being observed by many monitors in all the corners, an overhead camera that looks down over the top of the interrogation room, and projects it through the “telescreens” placed strategically all over the room.
The amazing, totally absorbed and in-the-moment Cast includes Will Thomas McFadden as Winston Smith, Tom Szymanski (playing Party Member No. 1 & Goldstein), Lee Margaret Hanson, (Party Member No. 2 /Mrs. Parsons & Julia), Bob Turton, (Party Member No. 3 /Parsons /Mr. Charrington), Ethan Corn, (Party Member No. 4 /Syme) and Tim Robbins, in the title role of O’Brien, the at first, unseen controller of the inquisition, running the show from behind the scenes. He (Big Brother) has the power, even just with his voice and the many monitors he preaches through, to end your life or let you live, and you’d better bet he’s adept at taking care of that.
Will Thomas McFadden, as Winston, brilliant, in the central role, plays the arc of his character from one extreme to the other, mentally, emotionally and physically, and gives a gripping performance from start to finish. Every emotion was felt through not only his dialogue, but his body language and movements. Lee Margaret Hanson, as Julia, Winston’s love interest, is wonderful portraying the fowl-mouthed rebel but tender and loving with Winston, partner in crime, secretly marrying him and trying to escape the inevitable with him. The four Party Members, or thought police; Tom Szymanski, who also plays Goldstein, the antithesis of Big Brother; Lee Margaret Hanson; Bob Turton, playing party member # 3, Mr. Charrington and the dreaded tough guy Parsons, and Ethan Corn, playing both party member #4 and Syme, are each quirky yet menacing characters as they fulfill their duties of brow-beating and breaking down this traitor for Big Brother by any means possible, with a constant barrage of berating and humiliating, and finally, with O’Brien, playing on his weaknesses and fears, forcing him to be subjugated and broken. When Tim Robbins finally appears in Act Two, you are already familiar with his character, that of the smooth-tongued, suave leader who knows all, knows how to destroy anyones’ spirit and all the most despicable ways to torture someone into madness and submission. The scene near the end is absolutely horrifying, involving a cage filled with rats put over Winston’s head, that finally does him in, as he blurts out, screaming, “I love you Big Brother,” having given over his soul in defeat.
It is a masterful and chilling rendition, under the guidance of Tim Robbins, a founder and member of The Actors’ Gang through its’ 38 years of existence, here in Los Angeles. He has directed and is now also starring in this commentary on capitalizing on dominating through fear, lies and dependence.
This play is part of the Actors’ Gang’s current “Season of Justice.” Michael Gene Sullivan has concisely adapted George Orwell’s novel into the 21st century, tightening it up time-wise and sprinkling in Millennium touches such as iPhones, mini-cams everywhere, and constant “Breaking News” propaganda.
Precisely staged and directed to engross the audience in the feeling of being constantly watched, under a microscope, and punished for not going by “The Rules,” the audience flanks all sides of the center square as the lights suddenly come up and we find Winston Smith in the “hot seat,” being forced to listen to passages of his Diary (which is forbidden to keep) read aloud by the different party members, in mocking and accusatory tones, who are all rigid, intense, exact and exaggerated – becoming almost caricatures of their ilk. (I have to interject that the lighting design applied intensified the scenes perfectly, as well as the sound and projection designs.) They grill Winston relentlessly, breaking him down, laughing at his words. Little by little, we witness the different tactics used to dumb down and quash critical, positive thinking, and the belief in one’s self.
“1984” provokes the audience to look further and beyond the telescreens to contemplate how much we truly think for ourselves, how some are drawn in by an omnipresent mob-mentality, and how complicit we are by standing still as the world becomes this reality through Orwell’s imagination.
Seventy-one years ago, in writing his visionary novel, “Nineteen Eighty-Four, “George Orwell eerily predicted the world we are currently living in. Notes Director Tim Robbins: “Throughout the world for over a decade, every time The Actors’ Gang has performed this adaptation, we have found new relevance and importance in Orwell’s cautionary tale. Today, in this new, frighteningly cruel world of mass deportations, nativist violence, and a constant assault on the truth, 1984 has taken on a new gravity and urgency. For this reason we see the absolute necessity of presenting this staged adaptation this fall.”
Tim Robbin’s credits are beyond massive, including Academy, SAG and Golden Globe Awards, and with such immeasurable screen presence in “Shawshank Redemption,” “Bull Durham,” “Mystic River,” “Castle Rock,” and so many more, he brings a depth to his work on stage, as well, where he is also at home, constantly creating and seeking to showcase work with meaning. The Actors’ Gang is an esteemed Theater Company Ensemble that has toured World Wide, as well as educating youth of all ages and backgrounds in Los Angeles; and since 2006, The Actors’ Gang’s groundbreaking Prison Project provides theatrical workshops to incarcerated men and women in 13 California prisons.
Excellent Lighting by Bosco Flanagan, Sound by David Robbins and Projection Design by Cihan Sahin.
Tickets for 1984 are available by calling 310-838-4264 or online at www.theactorsgang.com. The Actors’ Gang Theater is located at The Ivy Substation at 9070 Venice Blvd, Culver City, CA 90232.
Photos Courtesy of Ashley Randall