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A CurtainUp Review
A Clockwork Orange
By Jacob Horn
Clockwork perhaps as well known in the form of its 1971 film adaptation by Stanley Kubrick as that of the original novel. It is known for its violence, but that violence is simply a means to an end. At its core, it tells a story about choices—the consequences of those that we make and what it means when we lose the ability to make them—and about institutions that would rather neutralize our humanity altogether than be inconvenienced by misbehavior or nonconformity.
The dystopian horrors of this world are manifold. If it's chilling that this society could produce such a villainous protagonist as Alex in the first place, it's more terrifying to grapple with a context that manages to make Alex seem sympathetic despite his own gruesome behavior.
It's for this reason that this production, which CurtainUp also reviewed during its London run, winds up being visually spectacular while failing to satisfy as drama. The dance and movement is delicately staged and impressively executed, which is no easy feat considering that such physically intense segments occupy roughly half of the play's run time.
But this also devotes an outsize amount of attention to the physically tangible elements of the story. The emphasis is on the physical confrontations — the overlaps between sex and violence, and the bodily torture — while abstracting the specifics that can strike most deeply. As a result, we lose a great deal of the intimacy between the viewer and our "friend and humble narrator" Alex that makes the story so captivating. Davies offers a performance that stands out for its physical intensity—all the more remarkable considering it's his New York debut. However, despite his commanding presence, he never quite achieves the balance of eliciting sympathy and revulsion that has made the character so iconic.
Among the more controversial elements of Clockwork in both its text and film versions is the highly sexualized, sometimes brutal treatment of female characters. The use of an all-male cast offers an interesting opportunity to upend this, but the execution is mixed.
The production falls into a grey area where some female characters appear to be recast as male, surfacing a homoerotic charge already bubbling under the surface of such a hyper-masculine world, while others are played as hysterical feminine caricatures that can uncomfortably jolt you out of any immersion in the play.
Homoeroticism doesn't just arise in passing exchanges between characters, but is also embedded into the movement and the soundtrack, which blends the classical music so integral to the plot with contemporary pop. In many moments, we see abstract depictions of sex and violence arrestingly portrayed through dance. But there are times, like in a number backed by Frankie Goes to Hollywood's Relax, where the music and beefcake-centric choreography feel too calculatedly sexy, more like a literary strip tease than a dramatic offering.
One of the biggest assets to the dance numbers is the crisp sound design by Emma Wilk, which carefully balances all the pieces of a very loud performance with legibility and clarity throughout. James Baggaley also provides a hard-working, constantly shifting lighting scheme, helping to evoke a number of different locations within a small playing area and with next to no scenery. Costume coordinator Jennifer A. Jacob draws some inspiration from the film, relying on different permutations of black, white, and orange, and this visual ethos echoes through the set pieces and props as well.
To follow in the design footsteps of such an auteur as Kubrick is a daunting task but the design team here performs admirably, gesturing towards some of the film's iconic visual imagery while providing a minimal enough touch to allow the maximalist physicality of the performers to really stand out.
While these physical performances are impressive, they also fail to convey the fully troublesome nature of the world that Burgess created. And in times where our interest in dystopic works has been reinvigorated by uncertainty in the world around us, a version of A Clockwork Orange that's anything less than horrifying plays as a missed opportunity.
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A Clockwork Orange
by Anthony Burgess
Directed by Alexandra Spencer-Jones
with Jimmy Brooks (F-Me Pumps/Billy Boy/Governor/Policeman/Comedian/Dolin/Len), Jonno Davies (Alex deLarge), 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), and Aleksander Varadian (Marty/Warder/Mark Alexander/Dr. Branom)
Lighting Design: James Baggaley
Sound Design: Emma Wilk
Costume Coordinator: Jennifer A. Jacob
Dialect Coach: Stephen Gabis
Original Music: Glenn Gregory and Berenice Scott
Production Stage Manager: Vanessa Dodgson-Thomas
Running Time: 1 hours and 30 minutes with no intermission
New World Stages, Theater 4, 340 West 50th Street (between 8th and 9th Avenues)
Tickets: $59-$99; (212) 239-6200 or (800) 432-7250, www.telecharge.org, or in person at the theater
From 9/2/2017; opened 9/25/2017; closing 1/6/2018
Performance times: Mondays at 8 pm; Wednesdays–Fridays at 8 pm; Saturday at 2 pm and 8 pm; and Sundays at 3 pm and 7:30 pm
Reviewed by Jacob Horn based on 9/23/2017 performance
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