Review: “1984” (AstonRep Theatre)

Show: “1984”

(front, L to R) Tim Larson, Alexandra Bennett, and Ray Kasper. (back, L to R) Rory Jobst, and Lauren Demerath

Company: AstonRep Theatre

Venue: The Raven Theatre

In America’s current political climate, it’s not unusual to hear reference to doubletalk and newspeak and Big Brother, some people seem to think that 1984’s Oceania is more future than fiction—those people are wrong: Oceania is here, or at least it’s at The Raven Theatre in Edgewater where AstonRep’s production of 1984 is being staged, directed by Robert Tobin and adapted for the state by Robert Owens, Wilton E. Hall Jr, and William A. Miles.

Before you step into Raven Theatre’s West Stage, Jeremiah Barr’s fearsome scenic design lets you know Big Brother is watching. Propaganda posters featuring “the party’s” slogans line the entryway and are bordered by the same redacted newspapers that paper the stage scrawled with phrases like “Thoughtcrime”, and “DuckSpeak”, and the particularly resonant “Fake News”. All of this resides under the watchful eyes of Big Brother and his security camera pupils with their tell tale red recording light blinking in the relative darkness of the house lights.

When the play does start, it grabs your attention with klaxons blaring the call to watch the morning news loudly enough that I wondered if I should have brought ear plugs. It was not the last time that I would wish for ear protection while watching the play.

Despite my aching ears, Tim Larson as Syme and Alexandra Bennet as Parsons grasped my attention with their one-eyed salute and the dichotomy between Larson’s precise movements and Bennet’s choppy ones which when paired together spoke of group dynamics and group anxiety that I was excited to watch. They and the in group dynamics of a totalitarian regime was at times unsettling to watch with how it mirrored modern day, American Extremism (especially the amount of vitriol spewed at the character Emmanuel Goldstein, including comparing him to a reptile).

Ray Kasper’s introduction as the weary Winston did nothing to quell the mix of disquiet and excitement the beginning of the show wrought in me, and the way he navigated the world of Oceania and the party was fascinating to watch.

My excitement did wane however with the introduction of Sarah Lo as the juvenile and impetuous Julia. To be fair, Lo did not have much to work with, the Julia of Owens et al.’s adaptation like the Julia of the original work is more of an idea or fantasy than a fully formed character. She is the beautiful young girl who falls for a man, many years her senior, and rushes into a romance and rebellion with little thought. It is played this way despite her implied stalking of Winston, but the audience never sees the Julia who followed the object of her affection to restaurants or loitered outside his apartment, weeks before ever actually meeting him. The only version of an in love Julia the audience sees, is a saccharinely sweet young girl who would rather focus on small happinesses than great injustices.

(left to right) Sarah Lo and Ray Kasper

The one note portrayal falls flat, and undermines the rest of the show.

The adaptation as whole fails in respect to Julia, in part because of its poor pacing. Instead of letting the audience see a relationship build on stage, the play jumps from their meeting to their decision to marry, leaving the audience no time to invest in their relationship.

That time is given instead to Winston’s torture, which takes up most of the second act, and since his relationship with Julia doesn’t feel like much, it’s hard to know exactly what he’s fighting for, and after five minutes of Winston’s screams I just felt fatigued, despite the excellent performance of Amy Kasper as O’Brien. She delivered iconic lines like gut punches, and her instant chemistry with Ray Kasper as Winston made Winston’s relationship with Julia pale even further in comparison. Amy Kasper ‘s O’Brien gloried marvelously in the pain she caused Winston, but the eventual outcome still fell flat because what Winston was fighting for in the end wasn’t valued by the script and that textual decision was supported by the directing.

TEN WORD SUMMARY: “Julia doesn’t pass the sexy lamp test, sorry lit nerds.”

DIE RATING: d8 – “Not Bad, Not Great”