BWW Review: The Thought Police are Coming for You with Radial Theater Project's 1984
Radial Theater Project is currently presenting an adaptation of George Orwell's classic dystopian nightmare "1984", and don't even THINK about saying anything good about it. Big Brother has sent down orders from the Ministry of Truth that there is nothing good about this production and it has no good performances or redeeming qualities, and everything is un-good. But if you know anything about the Ministry of Truth, you know everything is the exact opposite there and that holds true here as this production is a spectacular, riveting telling of this horrifying story and you need to see it. Just don't tell The Thought Police I said that.
This adaptation from Citizen Michael Gene Sullivan focuses on Winston Smith (Ryan Higgins) ... I mean ... Citizen 6079 Smith W. 6079 Smith has been brought to the Ministry of Love to answer for his crimes including spreading the works of the dangerous Goldstein, thinking dissenting thoughts about Big Brother, and falling in love with a woman named Julia. 6079 Smith will be interrogated by the Ministry and the Thought Police until the truth of his actions and thoughts are revealed so the Ministry might help him become "sane" again. And as always, he will need to be precise.
OK, well the adaptation from Citizen Sullivan is not quite precise. How could it be without making the piece four and a half hours long? But he's done a brilliant job in getting to the crux of the tale as Citizen Smith takes us through the actions that brought him here, mostly as the narrator of his story while the interrogators (K. Brian Neel, Marianna de Fazio, Brad Cook, and Lyam White) reenact the events portraying him and the others involved. And all under the watchful eye and booming voice of the lead interrogator (Michael Ramquist). With this device, Citizen Sullivan has skillfully found a way for the tale to be told, highlighting the key moments, while never leaving the interrogation room. This way he is able to paint a stark picture of this dystopian world that could never come to reality, right?
I mean a world where people are constantly surrounded by telescreens that continually monitor their every whim in order to keep them towing the party line. A world where historical information is changed to favor the information that the prevailing rulers, specifically Big Brother, wants us to see. A world where being different or even thinking different could land you into the dreaded Room 101 where you're tortured until you see the light they want you to see. No, that could never happen. I have two words for that idea, Fake News.
In our real world of overstepping government officials and disinformation, the tension is quite high. And Director David Gassner has superbly paced the play to consistently amp up the tension to a terrifying, yet all too familiar end. But lest you think this is just a horror fest of interrogation, Citizen Gassner has skillfully peppered in moments of nuance where the tension can be released for bits at a time through humor and power shifts to keep the piece from becoming bleak or one-note. Instead it's a roller coaster that keeps going ever higher, never indicating when we may drop.
The ensemble is a powerhouse of intent as the actors switch back and forth between their Ministry selves and the people they portray in the recreations. Each and every one elegantly switches back and forth keeping the audience on their toes. Citizen Ramquist manages a malevolent presence without ever taking him to an over the top evil place. And you can see he relishes in the reveals making the audience relish in them as well. But it's Citizen Higgins who truly brings the pathos. I've seen Higgins over the years turn in this type of crazed, beleaguered character and no one does it better. He brings the horror and emotion of the character right to the surface of his being but never "portrays" the emotion, he embodies it. Making his performance genuinely harrowing.
This story couldn't be more resonant in today's political and cultural climate and the portrayal of the piece couldn't be more engaging. Made even more so in the intimate, bare bones space of 18th and Union. And so, with my three-letter rating system, I give Radial Theater Project's production of "1984" a scintillating YAY+. But thank god this could never really happen here. Right? Oh, excuse me, there's someone knocking at my door.
"1984" from Radial Theater Project performs at 18th and Union through March 14th. For tickets or information contact them at www.18thandunion.org.