Publisher: Elizabeth Hurd / Managing Director: Adrienne Proctor / Editor: Jillian Pritchard Ball

“1984” at 3rd Act Astounds Audience with Audacity

Ronn Burton as Winston Smith in ‘1984’  Photo courtesy of Christine Lanning.

Many baby-boomers grew up fearing the arrival of 1984 a year made notable by the dystopian novel “1984” by George Orwell published in 1949.  The award-winning novel presents a disturbing view of a future ruled by the tyranny of totalitarianism and propaganda.  Control of every aspect of a citizen’s life is achieved through constant surveillance of every act no matter how private and the manipulation of language, history and literature.  The novel adapted into a play by Robert Owens, Wilton E. Hall Jr. and William A Miles Jr. is also entitled “1984.  The play brings into stark focus the horror of dystopian society.

The first glimmer of the fallacy in a perfect world for all came for little girls playing hopscotch in the fifties.  It was certainly well known that this game of many little rules had only one absolute rule—the bossiest little girl had the power to change all the rules of the game at any time to ensure a win.  These fluid rules provide a first introduction to the tyranny that some personalities are able to impose upon others.  There is a belief that createing a perfect society is impossible, because it cannot be universal and the attempt to do so will result in dystopia rather than utopia, but the dis-informative propaganda machine will likely refer to such a society as Utopian.  Bossy little girls would revel in the idea.

Don Taylor’s ‘1984’ set.  Photo Courtesy of Christine Lanning.

Jon Haque is directing “1984” at the 3rd Act Theatre in Oklahoma City.  His perfect understanding of discordant disharmony controlling others allows him to work with a cast equally sensitive to the manipulation that occurs by the powerful entities in control.  Beginning with Big Brother himself, Haque cast David Fletcher-Hall as the face of Big Brother.  That face is everywhere with all-seeing eyes terrible and constantly alert for the slightest appearance of treasonous thought. Thoughtcrime in Newspeak. Big Brother has a large population of bully boy thugs to implement the wishes of the state.  In every apartment and every work station the telescreen is imposing and omnipresent.  And it goes both ways.  In fact, Big Brother sees more of the common man than the common man does of him.  One never really understands if Big Brother is an individual or a collection of elitist tyrants.

Winston Smith is a rather average middle-class gentlemen by the standard of 1949, and even the 1984 that really happened.  Relieved that the Orwellian predictions did not come true, we have relaxed.  Open up your computer.  Were eyes watching this review as it was being typed?  Are they watching the reader react?  Winston knows.  Outwardly he is a loyal and patriotic citizen of Oceania and parrots the beliefs of the party and party unity for the nation.  He loves Big Brother on the surface.  Who better than Ronn Burton to reveal a calm, even easy-going patriot to superiors while the audience can detect a certain smoldering in the eyes?   His performance is devastatingly brilliant.

A place of our own. Ronn Burton as Winston and Summer Nolan as Julia glory in their new haven: a small apartment with window instead of telescreen. Photo courtesy of Christine Lanning.

Summer Nolan is Julia.  Julia and Winston have, against all odds, found one another and fall in love.  They are able to rejoice in sharing their disgust for their plight, and Julia is ecstatically in love.  While she is mature in her public personal, always attending the anti-sex league meetings and so on, in the company of Winston she is a giddy teenager, in love with love.  Nolan switches from almost matronly young biddable lady to adolescent giggler with ease.

Taylor Reich as O’Brien torturing Ronn Burton as Winston. Photo courtesy of Christine Lanning.

They are assisted by a like minded yet elite party member.  O’Brien is deftly played by Taylor Reich.  His helpful kindliness is just a little saccharine as Winston and Julia feel secure in his presence.  His  deception is a shock to the young couple.  As  his treachery is revealed one sees complete joy on his face and a spring in his step.  He is in his element.  Utopia for such a one comes from dictating the lives of others.  Do not play hopscotch with O’Brien.  It may be okay to play with Reich.

Winston and Julia have rented an apartment from an eccentric landlady played by Jeni White.  Is the landlady also entrapping them?  Impossible.  White keeps us guessing as her charming and seemingly elderly character speaks of her lost lover from before the war. 

Two of Winston’s colleagues are Parsons, played by Joe Burleigh and Syme played by Tiffany Tuggle.  Both of these actors capture the essence of belief in the totalitarian regime.  They are examples that prove that no-one can achieve perfect compliance.  Their loyalty is not enough, their skill and usefulness are not enough, because double-speak does not allow defense.  Citizen’s must prove their devotion to big brother with a trial by fire regardless of the extent of their belief.  Burleigh and Tuggle are perfectly suited to display the unbelievably impossible task.  Burleigh gives us a smile with his unflagging loyalty and pride in his daughter who denounced him for nothing.  Tuggle gives us a heart-wrenching example of a very intelligent woman learning to suppress her intelligence, but unable to stop using it completely.  Lilybella Tucker is Gladys, the daughter of Parsons and she is truly a giddy teen, anxious to please her superiors and able to betray her father to be loyal to a country who hates her.  And her father is truly proud as he is tortured.  Tucker is amazing in her theatrical debut.

Woops! no telescreen, but the apartment does have a rat!          Ronn Burton as Winston and Summer Nolan as Julia. Photo courtesy of Christine Lanning.

Deni Becker performs multiple roles as Messenger, Coffee Vendor/Waitress.  This is a cameo role using an emerging actress who is able to make the most of a small part with the ease of a trouper.  Peter Fischaber is the 1st guard, then he becomes Martin, not exactly a typical servant to the elite party member, O’Brien.  He makes this transition with startling assurance giving us some comic relief in the bargain.  Elizabeth Garrison is the 2nd guard and Understudy.  Garrison has varied theatrical experience and is developing her expressive ability.  In this role, one can see that she has achieved excellent physical control and poise, an elusive ability for many.  She, as all the performers are clearly lovers of performance craft.  

It is vital to entertain, it is wonderful to inform entertainingly, and exciting to reveal the lie in so much truth as the characters reveal the truth with so much dishonesty.  “1984” has always been a must read and the play is a must see…cementing the dangers of trusting an overreaching government with skill and sensitive understanding.

 

Winston in Room 101 where he meets what he fears the most. ..Rats
Photo courtesy of Christine Lanning

Jon Haque and his crew of designers and support staff are excellent as they lead these superb actors in a frighteningly important story.  The grim set by Don Taylor, costumes by Dakota Lee Bryant and Props by Michelle Hall are well appointed.  Jared Blount’s projections and video are a remarkable addition especially in revealing Fletcher-Hall’s Big Brother.  Whitney Redding assists Jon Haque’s exciting and wonderful direction.

“1984” plays through Sunday, October 25, 2020.  Curtain is 8:00 pm for evening performances and 2:30 for Sunday’s matinee.  3rd Act Theatre is located in the Shoppes at Northpark Mall.  The address 12040 N. May Avenue. Visit 3rdActTheatre.com or call 405-593-8093 for information and tickets for any performance.  Also visit 3rd Act Theatre on Facebook.

 

I love Big Brother. Ronn Burton capitulates to the ever present Big Brother–David Fletcher-Hall. Photo courtesy of Christine Lanning