BWW Review: 1984 at Downtown Cabaret Theatre
On Saturday, February 2, 2019 I had the pleasure of seeing the 8:15 performance of 1984 at the Downtown Cabaret Theatre in Bridgeport, CT. This is an absolutely mind blowing and phenomenal stage adaptation of the classic George Orwell novel most notably famous for the phrase, "Big Brother is watching you." Under the direction of Katherine Ray, the Downtown Cabaret Theatre provides a brilliantly intense experience with a stellar cast of talented performers who truly bring the characters to life. A huge part of what makes this story so intriguing and captivating is that it was initially written as an unverified fictional prophesy of a future dystopian society that could potentially exist if the trajectory of the current events of that time (circa 1949) follow their course unhindered, and we now see some of these terrifying predictions coming to fruition in modern America. It is fascinating that when the novel was first published, 1984 would be 35 years in the future, yet, now, 1984 is 35 years in the past and the story is still relevant.
An elevated screen on the back of the stage, as well as two elevated screens on both sides of the stage display images indicating the presence of Big Brother, a government entity that spies on every move the citizens make. While the fourth wall does not technically get broken during the performance itself, the audience gets a first-hand taste of this future society before the start of the show and during intermission, when the screens on the sides of the stage display live house footage of the audience, ingeniously enhancing the "Big Brother is watching you," vibe.
Social media in modern America is ironically a way for Americans to play right into the hands of a Big Brother type government, as it provides the government with insight into the lives, associations, and worldviews of its users. Other tracking devices like the internet, credit cards, cell phones, the GPS, and E-Z Pass allow the government to track every move that private citizens make. Who is to say that Alexa is not constantly listening? Big Brother?
Chris Kozlowski gives an incredibly breathtaking performance in the physically demanding and emotionally intense leading role of Winston Smith, a worker for the government who is in reality opposed to Big Brother's oppressive governmental system. Each day, with his co-workers, Winston partakes in what is called a daily "hate," where Big Brother commands them to shout out hateful words towards a man named Emmanuel Goldstein, whose face is shown on the back screen, a man who opposes Big Brother, a man who speaks words from the beginning of the Declaration of Independence. Fascinating the correlation of how Americans who defend those Declaration of Independence words about the unalienable right to life often are targeted with hateful words, too.
Anna Fagan shines in the role of Julia, Winston's love interest in this society in which Big Brother has banned love and marriage. Winston is initially suspicious of Julia, because he has seen her around, as if she was spying on him. When she confesses to him that her reason for her presence was that she was in love with him, his attitude towards her quickly changes. They arrange an underground wedding, and acquire a room in which to stay, under the impression that they are outside of the reaches of Big Brother's invasive spying technology.
The rest of the cast, including Suzanne Powers, Max Helfand, Hugh Tucker, Katie Brunetto, Marisa Curti, Alyssa Bianca, James Luurtsema, and Jose Echevarria all enhance the show with strong performances, some including foreign accents.
Big Brother hires people referred to as the "thought police." These people are responsible for arresting anyone who dares speak a word that conflicts with the way that Big Brother insists that everyone thinks. In fact, Big Brother has even hired people to eradicate words from the English language, with the goal of making it ultimately impossible for young minds to even think a thought that is not consistent with Big Brother's agenda of control and dominance over every facet of the people's lives.
We see the thought police concept in the modern American fascism that we call "political correctness," and in an even more sinister manner in "hate speech" laws. The former is where the media declares what is deemed socially acceptable to say or think, where the latter is where the government declares what is legally acceptable to say or believe. Many less astute American citizens become systematically brainwashed by the incessant media repetition of this fascism, even to the point where I once was told to "Have a nice holiday," by the person who was bundling my Christmas tree. It is scary how repetitive propaganda and constant exposure to those who have fallen victim to it can actually transform the inner thought processes of those who fail mentally and verbally to fight the thought police.
Big Brother seeks worship, which would be idolatrous under many religions. So, in order to further create the society of Big Brother, in modern America, certain other Constitutional violations would need to first take place, including the banning of religious freedom, banning of guns, banning of due process, and banning on prohibition of cruel and unusual punishments.
Big Brother desires to eradicate the past from its society, and strives to brainwash citizens into believing that the past that they recall didn't exist. In America, we see the destruction of historical flags, statues, and monuments, while professional sports team names and mascots, children's cartoons, and even songs are under attack, all in the name of "tolerance." Many people suspect, though, that the motive behind this fascist attempt at censorship of the innocent is much darker than the mere appeasement of feigned outrage.
What will happen to the romance between Winston and Julia? Will they be found out? If so, will they be killed? Will they be tortured? Will they stay faithful and loyal to each other if tortured? Will they fight the power and resist, no matter what the cost? Will they deny what they feel and believe as a deceptive strategy to avoid the wrath of Big Brother? Will they genuinely stop believing as they once did, due to a systematic brainwashing process of Big Brother? Will one of them pull out a bazooka and wipe-out all of Big Brother's guards, minions, and followers? Will a foreign government overthrow Big Brother? If so, will that government be just as corrupt and power hungry as Big Brother? Will the citizens rally behind a new leader who will say things that overtly and unapologetically violate Big Brother's thought parameters? Come to the show to find out!
With a fair warning that there are some intense torture scenes, I highly recommend 1984, which is scheduled to continue to run at the Downtown Cabaret Theatre in Bridgeport, CT, through February 17, 2019. For times and tickets, please go to Big Brother will be watched by me!