George Orwell’s 1984 is an icon of political and popular culture. The book which explores a rebel’s journey within a dystopian government, continually brings to question political and social ideologies that have remained relevant since the novel’s publication in 1948. Orwell’s style manages to illustrate both horrifying and beautiful portraits within the minds of its readers. In the same vein, Radial Theater Project’s production of 1984 provides a powerful argument as to how minimalist theater can lead to a powerful staging of a classic novel.
The adaptation by Michael Gene Sullivan follows Winston Smith, a man detained as a prisoner of Oceania. Going through scenes of the classic novel, four agents and Big Brother force Winston to recount his various thought crimes. Through this, we see Winston break down over his memories of loss, love, and war.
The script often takes directly from the source material. With the wrong cast, it easily could have felt like a table read of the novel itself. However, Ryan Higgins’ performance as Winston successfully evaded these possible issues. Be he in the background or foreground, Higgin’s talent is worth the price of admission. With every electric shock, every painful memory, the audience sees the toll it takes on Winston.
The minimalist set proved to be far more powerful than flashy props or scene changes could ever provide. Each image read aloud by the agents is ingrained in one’s head without ever actually seeing it. It felt like reading the book once again, except with an elevated sense of realism and shock. Marianna de Fazio as Julia perfectly switched between her roles as an upstanding agent and an uncouth rebel. Furthermore, the (fake) chemistry between her and the agent playing Wilson (K. Brian Neel) was touching as much as it was heart-wrenching. It takes a talented cast to provide an audience with the tools to imagine settings without a change in costume or set.
This emotional journey would not be complete without the stellar lighting done by Amber Lynne Parker. The switch from harsh white lights of an interrogation room to the soft amber of the inside of a shop truly made these mental images easier to discern. It was evident that directors David Gassner and Jose Amador had a clear vision for this production. They took a relatively simple script to the next level and made it seem effortless.
This show is powerful, it is brutal and leaves a viewer leaving feeling the emotional weight of Orwell’s masterpiece. If you are a fan of 1984, minimalist theater or gripping drama, do not doublethink seeing this show.
“1984”, Adapted by Michael Gene Sullivan. Radial Theater Project, 18th and Union, February 21- March 14
Tickets Available At: https://18thandunion.org/1984