Saturday, March 3, 2012

Before And Beyond the Stage

Elements of a trip to the Alchemist for Orwell's 1984

By Russ Bickerstaff
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So often it's the substance of things beyond the stage that make for a theatre experience. When I went out to see a show last night at the Alchemist it was snowing. Heavily. For various reasons I guess I decided to walk it to the theatre in what is likely to be one of the last sniwfalls of the season. Michael Gene Sullivan probably didn't have a snowstorm in mind when he adapted George Orwell's 1984 for the stage, but the brutal weather added to the mood of the show quite nicely.
 
Walk in from the punishment of serious snowfall and there's the dark intimacy of the Alchemist Theatre. The Alchemist always seems to have such a fun time of bringing the atmosphere of the show into the bar and letting it breathe. A voice announces slogans amidst a Brian Eno soundscape rolling through the background. Slogans rapidly shoot across a video screen at the far end of the bar. There's a surveilance camera on the bar trhat occasionally pans around, it's friendly little tally light letting you know it's there and it's watching. Subtle little reminders of the show you're about to see. Yes, you're ordering a beer or a drink or whatever, but you know what you're about to see onstage next door is NOT going to be pretty.
 
Sit down with your drink and the Alchemist has its usual blend of theatrical creative types in the audience, but the shadow of the show is kind of colors the atmosphere around all the edges. Someone comes to the bar asking for something for Michael Keily. Look in the program and there he is listed as only "The Voice." You'll hear him before you ever see him. And when you see him it's too late for the priotagonist . . . a guy played by Christpoher Elst. This is a really good cast that's been put to good use . . . long live Big Brother, right? Take another sip of your drink and wait for them to open the house. That's what you're here for, right? You're here to see a show, right? It's only theatre...relax and say hello to the camera...
 
The fun little game being played in the show is that . . . the entire thing plays out as an inquisition for the protagonist. What subversive thoughts has he been having and how do we deal with it . . . and his journal is reas to him . . . prerformed for him like theatre. And that's what we're all here for . . . we're ALL here for theatre . . . so there's kind of a subtle layering going on there. Andthen there's the program . . . a simple 8-1/2''x11'' piece of paper that lists all the main people involved in the production in simple sanserif black and white. And there at the top of it there's text that says "BIG BROTHER LOVES YOU. BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING." Why go for anything more complex than that? That single sheet of paper is just another document like all the others that are in the files being rifled through by those looking for answers from Winston Smith in the form of Christopher Elst . . . all very, very mood. All very, very intersting.
 
Project Empty Space's production of George Orwell's 1984 runs through March 17th at the Alchemist Theatre for ticket reservations, visit the Alchemist  online.
 
A full review of the show appears in the next Shepherd Express.

 

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