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Arts and Entertainment

The Actors' Gang Production of 1984 at REDCAT

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By Roger Park

On Saturday night The Actors’ Gang performed a production of George Orwell’s classic novel 1984 at the Roy and Edna Disney CalArts Theater (REDCAT). Adapted for the stage by Michael Gene Sullivan and directed by actor-writer-director Tim Robbins, 1984 depicts a terrifying world where people fear their opinions cannot be expressed freely, where citizens are constantly monitored and lied to by their government and a perpetual war is waged against an unseen enemy.

The story’s protagonist, Winston Smith (played by Cameron Dye), is shackled to a sunken trapezoid in the middle of an interrogation room while Party Members extract a confession. As Smith narrates his thoughtcrimes against the Party, his interrogators act out the story and morph into the various characters such as Smith’s love interest Julia (played ebulliently by Kaili Hollister). In this brutal world of 1984, the citizens of Oceania are conditioned to believe Ignorance is Strength, Freedom is Slavery, War is Peace and the omnipresent Big Brother is Watching. Actors Keythe Farley (as O’Brien), Brian T. Finney, V.J. Foster and Steven M. Porter, due to the many character shifts, played with a dynamic range that at times, touched upon the absurd and humorous.

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The scenic design, in oppressing industrial gray, black, and steel, conveyed a minimalism that was both cold and effective. The sound and lightning design also resonated the portending tone and mood. Cameron Dye, as Smith, gave a riveting white-knuckle ride of a performance. As the torture scenes augmented in their cruelty and intensity, audience members moaned, squirmed in their seats and made audible stomach gurgles.

"We now live in a society that sanctions torture, that has set up secret prisons where we keep nameless prisoners from any legal representation. We have a news media that recently functioned as a propaganda arm of the state in the build up to the Iraq War and doesn't seem capable of holding anymore in the government accountable for the deception and the outright lies that were told to the American people," says director Tim Robbins.

"And in a nation at war certain rights must be curtailed to preserve Liberty," says playwright Michael Gene Sullivan. "Oh, and keep shopping. Or, as Big Brother says, Ignorance is Strength, Freedom is Slavery, War is Peace."

Overall, The Actors' Gang adaptation of 1984 is a challenging, compelling and pertinent commentary on a world we may interpret as a nightmare, a not too distant future or as a present reality.

The production is part of an extensive national and international tour. It ends its engagement in Los Angeles on July 6th so it would be Double Plus Good for you, citizen, to attend.

Actors' Gang: 1984
REDCAT (in Disney Hall)
631 W. 2nd Street, Downtown
Remaining shows: 7/1-7/6 (dark on 7/4)
Tickets: $18-38

Photo of Kaili Hollister, Cameron Dye, and Brian T. Finney of The Actors' Gang in 1984 by Jean-Louis Danville

Special thanks to The Actors' Gang, Lucy Pollak and Tamar Fortang.