1984 presented by Cincinnati Shakespeare Company through Nov. 3. Click here for a synopsis and more information on the production. I attended the opening night performance.
Cincinnati Shakespeare Company continues its 2018-19 season with a a new adaptation of George Orwell’s 1949 novel. The original production of this work premiered in England at the Nottingham Playhouse in 2013. It was created and directed by Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan.
Well, THAT was disturbing.
There is much to absorb in this taunt 101 minute intermission-less dive into a dystopian world of never-ending war, alternative facts, and government-sanctioned surveillance. The story centers around Winston Smith, an unassuming worker at the Ministry of Truth, responsible for re-writing historical records to match the government’s “official” version. In a personal act of rebellion, Smith begins to secretly write in a diary criticizing the government.
As Smith, Justin McCombs is easily likable yet carries the weight of Winston’s isolation in his performance. Perhaps that is why he is so eager to connect with Julia, played with an underlying paranoia by Sara Clark. The two play well off of each other and convincingly handle the intimacy of their relationship. I did feel there were times when Winston seemed to acquiesce to Julia, instead of owning his decisions. Jeremy Dubin is pitch perfect at the enigmatic O’Brien. The cast is supported well by the hardworking ensemble including young Agatha Hickerson who holds her own with the veterans.
Justen N. Locke’s cold, industrial set design works well in defining the world the characters live in, but also offers a canvas ideal for the projection work. I was very impressed by the versatility of the set as it moves into the final scenes of the show. The multimedia design by Brave Berlin, the Founding Creative Directors of Blink and LumenoCity, is incredibly impactful in bringing this world under the eye of “Big Brother” to omnipresent life.
If there is a weakness to the script, it is trying to cover so much territory in such a short period. With the passage of time so unclear, love and trust seem to develop a bit too quickly in a world that greatly lacks both. For those not familiar with the book, the quick transitions from one locale to the next could cause the location of the scene to be unclear to the audience. Also, I would not have minded having the major scene be a bit more uncomfortable for the audience to watch and to see the actor carry and compound the pain as the scene progresses. O’Brien taking a big step upstage would also improve the sight-line for those sitting audience right.
Overall, a truly disturbing production that never allows you to gain your mental footing. This production also features some of the strongest video work I’ve seen on stage.
My rating: 4.5 out of 5.
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