The setting is bleak, harsh, cold. Everything is gray. When the lights come up we see a figure in a fetal position on a square riser. Four men and one woman come in, all wearing black suits and white shirts, with a skirt on the woman, the men wearing ties. They are like automatons, human robots carrying out the orders of an unseen master. They order the man on the riser to stand. He stands, but can’t move away from his spot without getting shocked with electricity. Thus begins the play 1984, based on the novel by George Orwell, produced by Theater Artists Olympia, adapted for the stage by Michael Gene Sullivan and directed by Pug Bujuead.
The book was written in 1949 and has enjoyed a phenomenal upsurge in popularity since the 2016 presidential election, because many people compare the world of the fictitious 1984 to the real world of the United States under Donald J. Trump.
In the novel and in the play, Winston Smith (Gabriel McClelland) is being tried for thoughtcrimes by the repressive Party for which he works (his job is re-writing history). He dared to fall in love with Julia (Maggie Ferguson-Wagstaffe), who works in the Fiction Department at the Ministry of Truth. Julia loves sex and claims to have had affairs with many Party members. Her sexuality is a minor and personal rebellion against the system, which dictates what is good sex and what is bad sex. Winston’s rebellion is more universal and threatening to the Party, because he dares to question the very fabric of society and the Party line that that war is peace, ignorance is strength, freedom is slavery and love is hate. Forced by torture to confess his thoughtcrimes, Winston must denounce Julia, profess his love of Big Brother, and believe four fingers are five. He must not only confess these absurdities, he must believe them.
In addition to Ferguson-Wagstaffe and McClelland, the cast is Mark Alford, Xander Layden, Morgan Picton and the voice of John Serembe. Other than Serembe, who plays the mysterious inquisitor, all actors play multiple roles as they reenact Winston’s speech as he confesses. For actors, I can’t imagine anything more challenging, nerve-wracking or exhausting. This is acting of the highest possible order.
Bujeaud wrote: “We are living in a country where our civil liberties have been chipped away for decades, but with the tragedy of 9/11 it has snowballed. We are continually told that we must be fearful; we must be vigilant against the ‘Other.’ In our fear we have handed over our personal rights and our privacy all in the name of safety. Increasingly our news has become commentary, and our facts have become ‘alternative.’ We have been spoon-fed how and what to think. 1984 is about a world where everyone has become the ‘other’ and that is one of the biggest dangers that we are facing today. We have been fighting the ‘War on Terror’ for a long time now. And the fear that has been brokered in that name is tearing our country in two. And now the rift is becoming deeper and deeper. Any dissension that makes us stand up in protest is criticized as un-American. Daily we are told we must put up and shut up.”
This is not a fun play to watch. There is absolutely nothing entertaining about it, yet 1984 is a play that should be seen by everyone. In 1949 it was a vision of a possible future; today it is a vision of emerging reality from which we cannot hide.
Where: The Midnight Sun Performance Space,
113 Columbia St. NW, Olympia
When: 8 p.m. Thursday – Saturday and April 14-15
2:30 p.m. Sunday, April 8
How much: $12-$15