Wednesday, April 1, 2009



Adapted by George Orwell's novel by Alan Lyddiards. Directed by Joe Tantalo. 59E59. (CLOSED)

Godlight Theatre Company, which specializes in spare, less-is-more adaptations of mid-20th-century dystopian classics(A Clockwork Orange, Fahrenheit 451), tackles the granddaddy--or should we say Big Brother--of them all with their spare take on Orwell's 1984, and the critics range from awed to chilly. Even the show's biggest admirer, Martin Denton, concedes that the show provokes the mind more than the heart--which proves more of a liability for other critics. A
(Martin Denton) The extreme level of intensity—and potency—of Joe Tantalo's production of the classic novel is directly related to his choice to eschew high-tech effects and rely on the most basic and fundamental theatrical elements to tell Orwell's frightening cautionary story. This is a 1984 without television cameras or screens, without futuristic gadgets or gewgaws, without—for the most part—scenery. Maruti Evans's masterful production design consists of a claustrophobically small square space...It's a 1984 that prods and jolts the intellect more than it touches the heart. The prescience of Orwell's work is kind of breathtaking; we need to be prodded and jolted like this. A strong cast serves Tantalo's vision well. The standout is undoubtedly Nick Paglino as Parsons; he has a remarkable scene with Winston near the end of the play that's as compelling as anything I've seen in the theatre in months.

Backstage B+
(Leonard Jacobs) Given Maruti Evans' claustrophobic production design (actors idle in corners or the theatre's entrance area when not performing), Tantalo makes the most of minimalism. And anyway, 1984 shouldn't be an orgy of special effects, though Andrew Recinos' original music and sound design can be appropriately unnerving. As in the novel, our main focus is on Winston (hollow-eyed, haunted Gregory Konow), a man already withered to a final shred of individuality...There's so much that's smart about this production. Having the ever-running telescreens played by four women (Deanna McGovern, Katherine Boynton, Sammy Tunis, and Scarlett Thiele), for example, has a quality of real subversion. And Lyddiard and Tantalo don't make it easy for these actors, who utter long strings of seemingly innocuous words, creating a torturous white-noise hum.

CurtainUp B
(Jenny Sandman) Best when it's simplest. The chemistry between Winston (Gregory Konow) and Julia (Enid Cortes) in their love scenes and Winston's brutal interrogation and subsequent betrayal are the core of this adaptation of Orwell's famous novel. Unfortunately, the rest of the piece lags, bogged down by too many actors, scenes and sound effects...The production, while visually appealing, is almost too crowded for the tiny space at 59E59...Considering the power of the Winston/O'Brien scene had me almost wish Joe Tantalo had skipped more of the first part of the story, though I admit cutting most of the backstory from a play that runs 85 minutes is a little extreme. But then the directorial business was also extreme enough to become distracting during the narrative scenes. Still, consider my quibbles minor since Mr. Tantalo and his actors ultimately give us an accurate rendering of the novel's spirit.

New Theatre Corps B
(Lyssa Mandel) Technically tight, atmospherically compelling, and requisitely creepy. Only the extreme brevity of Alan Lyddiard’s adapted script leaves Orwell’s masterpiece short-changed...Konow does well with these emotions, duly terrified and motivated by his terror. His mouth often hangs open in disbelief, all the more appropriate given the head-spinning pace of the scenes, spliced together with a crude knitting needle. Despite all this adrenaline, it takes more than climaxes to flesh out a sympathetic drama. Ironically, the human condition is exactly what this production lacks.

Time Out NY B-
(Andy Propst) Joe Tantalo can shoehorn more narrative—often combined with impressive visual and aural effects—onto a postage-stamp-size stage than do many other directors working in larger houses. His production of Alan Lyddiard's fleet adaptation of 1984 is no exception. Andrew Recinos's soundscape chills (his use of a dentist's drill borders on genius), and Maruti Evans's quicksilver lighting appropriately jars. But the production never taps other emotions, such as empathy and pity.

The New York Times C
(Neil Genzlinger) Just doesn’t pack much of a wallop. The company takes its usual visceral approach: loud, confrontational, with the audience in the black box at 59E59 Theaters only inches from the actors. But, unlike the company’s “Fahrenheit 451” and other previous works, this production seems too clinical; dystopian horror without heart.

Variety D+
(Sam Thielman) There are many pitfalls to adapting George Orwell's dystopian nightmare "1984," and playwright Alan Lyddiard has encountered most of them in his double-plus-bad adaptation, playing at 59E59. Helmer Joe Tantalo adds loads of atmosphere, but atmosphere is not what this play needs -- it requires a firm structure and some serious storytelling chops, both of which are absent. Gregory Konow is serviceable as the doomed Winston Smith, and Dustin Olson compelling as his recruiter, O'Brien, but the novel's desperation is nowhere in the theater, at least not on the stage...It's astonishing how far from the book the play gets in the first five minutes, especially since large passages in the script are taken whole cloth from Orwell's writing. The book is not about some vague science-fictiony wasteland; it's about what might happen to England if things went horribly wrong. A 13; Backstage B+ 11; CurtainUp B 10; New Theatre Corps B 10; Time Out NY B- 9; The New York Times C 7; Variety D+ 5; TOTAL: 65/7 = 9.29(B-)

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