Stages

Orwell’s 1984 at AstonRep Is a Chilling Dystopia, Now More Than Ever

Lo and Kasper as Julia and Winston. Photo by Emily Schwartz.

Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell’s dystopian novel, was considered science fiction when it was published in 1949. Almost 70 years later, in an era of alternative facts and so-called fake news, 1984 is more chilling and relevant than ever.

AstonRep’s new production works smoothly, based on fine acting and the Orwellian language. Director Robert Tobin’s straightforward staging doesn’t mince words, Newspeak or not. The overall theme is stated repeatedly in the slogans of Oceania’s ruling party, appearing on telescreens and on posters mounted all around the theater space.

WAR IS PEACE
FREEDOM IS SLAVERY
IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH

Any other thought would be a thoughtcrime. Acknowledging that 2 + 2 = 5 is a truth demanded by the party. The protagonist, Winston Smith (Ray Kasper), works in the Ministry of Truth, where he spends his days correcting the past with new facts from the present. Sometimes that means erasing all traces of someone who has become an unperson. His colleague Syme (Tim Larson) is working on the dictionary of Newspeak, the official language of Oceania. Their colleague Parsons (Alexandra Bennett) hopes for a promotion but fears something else. On the ever-present telescreen, the anchor (Sara Pavlak McGuire) makes frequent announcements about the progress of the war and the situation of the economy.

Once a day, she rouses the workers from their desks to direct them in calisthenics and deep breathing. Later they participate in the Two Minutes Hate, during which they rant and scream at the telescreen image of Emanuel Goldstein (Ian Harris), a former member of the Oceania Inner Party. Winston participates in all this but there are hints that he is not fully supportive of the party.

First edition cover.

Julia (Sarah Lo), a new worker, arrives in this office to replace an unperson. Winston is assigned to instruct the new worker. Their business relationship quickly develops into a romantic one. They desperately want to find a place where they can be alone, away from the ubiquitous two-way telescreen. Winston ventures into the prole neighborhood where the lower classes are virtually ignored by the party. He rents a room that has no telescreen and the couple marries clandestinely and meets there. The landlady (charmingly played by Lorraine Freund) tells them stories of the pre-Oceania past and Julia finds forbidden treats (real coffee and sugar) for her husband.

You know from the beginning that no love story, no matter how sweet, can come to a good end in Oceania. So it’s hardly a spoiler to say that in act two, Winston becomes subject to the party’s truths.

The entire cast is very good and Kasper is especially strong as the serious but doubting Winston Smith, who remembers a world before Oceania. Jeremiah Barr’s scenic and technical design is effective and enhanced by Samantha Barr’s sound and lighting design.

The script, adapted by Robert Owens, Wilton E. Hall Jr. and William A. Miles Jr., was published in 1963. The 2015 Steppenwolf for Young Adults production used a script by Lookingglass Theatre’s Andrew White.

Interested in more about George Orwell’s 1984? Read the book or read it again. It’s been near the top of many best-seller lists since November 2016. Find a copy of the 1984 film version, starring John Hurt as Winston.

George Orwell’s 1984 by AstonRep runs just under two hours with one intermission and continues at Raven Theatre, 6157 N. Clark St., through October 8. Performances are Thursday-Monday. Buy $20 tickets online or call 773-828-9129.

Categories: Stages, Theater

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