Tuesday, November 17, 2009

New Review Posted: 1985

Centerstage just posted my review of Factory Theatre's 1985, a mashup of Orwell's 1984 and the history of the year that the Bears won the Super Bowl. I have no interest in football (though I did appreciate the program's shout out to Clevelanders as the only sports fans with more reason to be miserable than Bears and Cubs fans), and it's been over a decade since I read Orwell's novel (and by the way, it's pretty intense for a seventh grader), but I still had fun. It's very funny, with some very strong, very broad acting, and despite some real flaws (mostly in the second act), worth a trip. Here's the text:

Rabid sports fans watching a game can often seem like brainwashed citizens in a dictatorship. The Chicago Bears won the Super Bowl in the 1985 season.

Individually these facts might seem unremarkable, but playwright Chas Vrba had the inspired idea of combining the history of the Bears' 1985 triumph with the plot of 1984, George Orwell's classic dystopian political fantasy. The result is "1985," a sharp and very funny new play that is both faithful to Orwell's novel and rewarding on its own terms.

Winston Smith (Vrba), a journalist, lives in the play's frightening version of Chicago, Bear Nation. He writes laudatory articles about the Bears and Cubs as instructed by his superior, O'Brien (Scott OKen), and knows that Papa Bear (the play's Big Brother stand-in) is always watching for traitors from The Resistance, seeking to undermine the integrity and resolve of Bear Nation. But he's getting discontented — the constant losing would get to anyone — and new arrival Julia (Laura McKenzie) is turning his head.

The script works both as a witty commentary on the novel and a feast of jokes and references for Chicago sports fans (I missed a fair number of them), but it's worthwhile even for those unfamiliar with either. The exceptional ensemble attacks their vividly written roles with gusto. It's a rare pleasure to see nine people, working in the broadest comic style, getting their own laughs without detracting from the play as a whole. Director Eric Roach deserves much credit for keeping them all on the same page.
The production certainly has its flaws; a seduction scene in the second act falls flat, and the last scenes don't pack the punch they should. But the premise is still brilliant, and the execution undeniably strong, making the show worth a trip — and not only for dispirited Bears fans.

No comments: