Friday, October 6, 2017

A Clockwork Orange - Where It's All In The Eyes Of The Beholder

Reviewed by Judd Hollander

One of the more provocative dramas to hit the Off-Broadway stage in recent years is the U.K. import, A Clockwork Orange. A transfer of Anthony Burgess’ 1962 novel to the stage, the work is a powerful indictment against violence, as well as the methods some people undertake to try to stop it. The play currently having its New York premiere at New World Stages.

In present day England, teenage Alex deLarge (Jonno Davies) and his fellow droogs (a.k.a. gang members), gleefully partake in frequent rampages of violence. Causing mayhem and fear for no particular reason other than the thrills it gives them. The gang adapt at such efforts as breaking and entering, robbery, theft, assault and in some cases, rape and murder. One could actually call them rebels with nothing specific to rebel against.

While Alex has been able to talk his way out of tight scraps in the past - due to his pretty face, his feigning ignorance of the seriousness of his actions, and the hope others have that he can still be redeemed - all that changes when he’s arrested for murder and subsequently convicted. Alex’s downfall caused by a betrayal of one of his own gang. One whom Alex had tangled with previously and who still nurses a grudge against him.

Once in jail, Alex continues to use his powers of persuasion to try to skew the system to his own advantage. He helped in his efforts by prison guards who are more than willing to turn a blind eye in certain matters, so long as order is maintained. Upon learning that participation in a certain experiment will lead to his almost immediate release, Alex quickly volunteers to be a test subject.

However, the procedure in question is both revolutionary and controversial. The plan being that it will supposedly remove Alex's inherent violent tendencies by conditioning his body to reject them. Thus making the process akin to a sort of lobotomy. There are also many who voice their misgivings about the whole idea. Particularly the prison Chaplain (Timothy Sekk), who feels that any such change has to come from within. But with a society clamoring for protection against a systemic rise in violence, and the resulting issue of prison overcrowding – which one prisoner protests against, to no avail – the project is given the green light to proceed.

While the novel was written at a time where youth violence was on the rise in Britain, the story remains quite timeless due to its central theme of one’s personal rights – in this case the right to be violent - being sacrificed for the greater good. A question that’s been debated numerous times over the years and will, in all probability, continue to be long into the future.

Particularly ironic is how Alex finds himself becoming a tool for those on both sides of the debate. First with the authorities who rely on an untested solution to solve a widespread problem, thus enabling them to remain in power; and later with the so-called "free-thinkers" who want to use Alex to advance their own cause and condemn the experiment. Though in a rather poetic twist, when one of those in the latter camp turns out to be someone who previously suffered at Alex’s hands, he immediately condemns him. All the while conveniently forgetting that the person Alex is now is quite different from who he once was.

Davies, who previously played Alex in the U.K., gives nothing less than a tour-de-force performance. His portrayal of a young man who enjoys violence for its own sake is frighteningly real. While his seemingly involuntary reactions after the experiment are poignant and affecting enough to turn the character from villain to victim. This “switchover” – for want of a better word - then leads to the core question of the work. Specifically, when does society go too far in trying to stamp out the symptoms of a disease, instead of trying to cure its root cause?

Also quite illuminating is a scene where Alex meets up with some of his former droogs who have since become members of a law-enforcement unit. Their new status being someone's idea of using "ex-villains to catch real villains". The authorities giving these new recruits pretty much free reign in terms of how they get the job done.

The rest of the all-male cast, many of whom play multiple roles, both male and female, are excellent. Sekk in particular, does a good turn as the firebrand Chaplain. Both via his speeches to the inmates and in his protest against the experiment in which Alex becomes involved. Brian Lee Huynh is quietly terrifying as Dr. Brodsky, architect of the experiment. A man supremely confident in his theories and all too-willing to field test them, regardless of the dangers involved. Another standout is Ashley Robinson as the Minister, a career politician who sees Brodsky’s methods as a way of placating a frightened public.

Also quite good is the way the cast (American except for Davies) delivers the dialogue, particularly the droog-speak, all of which is indicative of a sub-culture these young men share.

Direction by Alexandra Spencer-Jones is very well-done. Especially when it comes to the stylistic approach used for much of the on-stage violence - particularly when it’s Alex who's delivering it. This initially appears somewhat disconcerting, until one realizes the audience is seeing the entire story through Alex's eyes. Thus, when Alex is inflicting said violence, he sees it as nothing less than beautiful. Though when the violence is done to him, not so much. Davies being the show's Fight Captain also helps here. He working hand in hand with Spencer-Jones, and Dance Captain Aleksander Varadian, to give an otherworldly feel to much of the physical action presented. All of which makes it no less terrifying. The accompanying music, both original and existing – the latter of which includes Beethoven, a favorite of Alex's - helps to add to this atmosphere.

Ending not with a bang, but with a whimper that resonates just as strongly, A Clockwork Orange offers a powerful comment on the cyclical yet continuing nature of violence and how those who are able to move beyond it, only do so on their own accord. Though sadly, without leaving any clues for the generations who come after to avoid falling into the same trap.

Featuring: Jonno Davies (Alex deLarge), Jimmy Brooks (F-Me Pumps/Billy Boy/Governor/Policeman/Comedian/Dolin/Len), Matt Doyle (Georgie/Zophar/Nurse Bromine), Sean Patrick Higgins (Dim/Pedofil/Joe The Lodger/Aide), Brian Lee Huynh (Frank Alexander/Dr. Brodsky/Big Jew/Dad), Misha Osherovich (Pete/The Doc/Rubenstein) Ashley Robinson (Minister/Old Woman/Rich Bitch/Policeman/Mum/Bully), Timothy Sekk (Chaplain/Mr. Deltoid/Mary/Rick), Aleksander Varadian (Marty/Warder/Mark Alexander/Dr. Branom).

A Clockwork Orange

By Anthony Burgess

Lighting Design: James Baggaley
Sound Design: Emma Wilk
Costume Coordinator: Jennifer A. Jacob
Dialect Coach: Stephen Gabis
Production Stage Manager: Vanessa Dodgson-Thomas
Assistant Stage Manager: Lilly Deerwater
Production Management: Libby Jensen
Company Manager: Kelly Ann Gray
Advertising and Marketing: AKA
Social Media: Janine Lee Papio
Press Representative: Vivacity Media Group
Casting: Stewart/Whitley
General Management: Martian Entertainment LLC/Glynis Henderson Productions Ltd.
Original Music Composed by Glenn Gregory and Berenice Scott
Associate Producers: Rachel Roussel-Tyson/Tyrus Emory
Fight Captain: Jonno Davies
Dance Captain: Aleksander Varadian

Directed by Alexandra Spencer-Jones

Presented at New World Stages
Address: 340 West 50th Street
Tickets: 1-800-447-7400 or
Running Time: 90 minutes, no intermission
Closes: January 6, 2018

This production of A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess was originally developed and presented by Action to the World (U.K.) and directed by Alexandra Spencer-Jones

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