VIEWS: 9 PAGES: 10 POSTED ON: 10/19/2012
A Clockwork Orange A Clockwork Orange, presented at the John Anthony Theatre on the CCCCD Spring Creek Campus, in Plano, Texas is a collaborative production between Collin County Community College and the University of Texas at Dallas. It is a co-operative entry for both schools in the 2002-2003 American College Theatre Festival. I attended the play on Friday, October 4th, 2002. Seated in the 4th row, center, I had a clear, close position in this proscenium theatre, in full view of all of the action. I felt involved in the unfolding drama as the main character directed his storytelling through soliloquies to the audience. I was seated with acting students with a keen interest in the play and felt an excitement and anticipation for the show on this second night of its performance. A Clockwork Orange was written by Anthony Burgess, a British novelist, composer, linguist, essayist, translator and critic. It is his best known novel, written in 1962 after an assault on his wife during WWII that led to the loss of their expected child and her eventual demise due to alcoholic cirrhosis in 1968. This satiric, futuristic tale was borne of Mr. Burgess’ feelings about this assault and his observance in 1961 of “stilyaqi”, gangs of young thugs, in Leningrad. It is also a commentary on the “universal application of B.F. Skinner’s behavior theories in prisons, asylums and psychiatric clinics at the time.” The self described comic writer, Mr. Burgess stated in a 1973 interview with The Paris Review that he “had to write in a state of near drunkenness in order to address material that upset him very much.” Trained as a composer, his first love was music and he stated in the same interview that he wished people viewed him as a musician who writes novels instead of a writer who composes. His musicianship is evidenced in A Clockwork Orange by his lyrical, poetic invention of the “Nadsat” language, a mixture of Russian, English and American slang gypsy-talk. This world premier was adapted for the Stage by Brad Baker, Quad C professor and director as well as the Carnegie Foundation U.S. Professor of the year 2000. Named for his extraordinary dedication to teaching, commitment to students and innovative instruction methods, Brad challenges his students with his choice of plays such as this impressive undertaking of A Clockwork Orange. Head of the theatre department since 1992, Mr. Baker states; “because providing students with quality experience merges with my philosophy of theatre for social change, I insist they become involved in working for that change.” Brad Baker also directed the play, guiding the actors to demonstrate Mr. Burgess’ vision. His casting of over thirty actors was on the mark, as each character came to life before us. The main character was so well portrayed by Brian J. Smith that you do not know where the young man’s talents and the directors’ guidance merged. They are, as a result, a credit to each other. On the other hand, I found that Mr. Baker’s casting of Maryam Baig as both the “Old woman” and Dr. Branom was distracting. Even though she was good in both roles, my mind could not help but ponder on whether or not it was the same actor. I felt the need to remind myself that the doctor she now played was in no way related to the “Old woman” of before. In other cases actors played more than one role and I also found that it took me out of my state of immersion in the story and reminded me that I was merely watching a play. Brad Baker states in the program; “Perhaps the Most fascinating thing about A Clockwork Orange is its language.” His choice to keep it in the play and his effective use of it demonstrates the principle characters’ youth, individuality and rebellion. This fanciful language sets us in a time and place apart with symbolism in every word and its lyrical nature keeps the pace with it poetic rhythm. The pace flows well throughout the play. One way this is achieved is through the clever use of scene transitions, as in the case where the probation officer, P. R. Deltoid, is first shown standing still in the background of the Korova milk-bar scene after the rape of the writer’s wife, and is still present in the following scene when Alex falls asleep. He then appears at Alex’s home the next day. His presence ties the scenes together and also symbolizes his role as probation officer; he is a watcher, always present, “on to” Alex. The pace in the prison scene provides a gradual build up, as first the new prisoner JoJohn is introduced in the quiet of night, then as he attempts to sexually assault Alex, who fights him off, and as a result kills him. We are then allowed to relax from all the tension as the audience laughs when the prisoners try to hide the fact that JoJohn is dead. This prepares us for the next wave as we realize that it is obvious that Alex will get Ludivico treatment as the prisoners turn on him, blaming him for JoJohn’s death. This ebb and flow continues throughout the production building up each mini climax so that we are drawn into the story, anticipating the turning point, wanting to know how it will all turn out. The best example of how the pace never lets up is in the scene where Alex is wheeled out of the hospital room and then wheeled into the lab for treatment. The action is taking place even as the set change and the actors come into place. It is superbly executed as each character attends to their duties as they come onto the scene. The storyline continues without interruption as if we were wheeled down the corridor ourselves. The Fight Director, Robin Armstrong sets an energetic pace through excellent blocking and choreography of the fight scenes. The stage fighting is convincing and emotionally charged. It wakes you up from your lulled acceptance of Alex’s way of life, reminding you of the viciousness of this surprisingly likeable character. Before the first fight scene, Alex’s gang seems less fierce than another gang we are presented with, as they taunt and rape a girl. There is a harsh brutality to their actions, as they push her from gang member to gang member. Then Alex’s gang comes upon them and decides it will be fun to spoil the other gangs’ sport. We then see that he and his droogs can hold their own in this violent arena, as they punch and beat off the rival gang. The swift movement, action and intensity of the staged fight add a level of realism and set us on the edge of our seats. We are caught in the excitement as it charges the play with energy. The Set Designer, Craig “Yo” Erickson executes smooth, polished sets with seamless transitions. Elegant, simple, all-white set elements slide quietly into place. The actors walking on stage just a little ahead of the set changes create an effortless flow. For example, prisoners walk on and we are instantly transported from the halls of a prison to a cell as the bunk and cell floor are simultaneously coming into place at stage left. The prisoners stretch and yawn and lay to rest rather than rolling in on the bunk and floor. This keeps the pace effectively and shows the action of many prisoners settling in, a kind of pecking order established, as Alex get the bunk. Everyone sleeps and the pace is slowed in anticipation. Videographer, Chelley Pyatt, and Photo Archivist, Brandon Woodall, provide “Yo” with startling images and immediately discernible visual clues as to location and mood, to be projected onto the three screens which make up the main set. These screens are positioned one on either side of the stage and one upstage, stage right. They can be moved in or out of any scene. They are approximately two stories high and four men abreast. As they tower over the stage, their size makes the characters seem smaller, insignificant in their environment, victims of circumstance. The sets depict no set era or country, the story seems out of time and place. It could be anywhere, anytime, symbolizing that it could be anyone’s reality. The scenes reflect social situations more than time or place, bad neighborhoods, good homes of “good” people and institutional settings, helping to convey each scene’s message. The images projected onto the screens create cinematic scene changes indicating different locations. They demonstrate the passage of time from day to night and back, and the setting from urban to pastoral, and locations from home to street and prison. In contrast, the sets for Alex’s home and the homes of other’s, bring in the mundane items of furniture along with well chosen props to create a verisimilitude to which we can relate, effectively drawing us in to empathize with the characters. We are then more interested in and moved by their fates. The props are kept to a minimum throughout the play. Each one enhancing the story by their infrequency, as it is clear that each prop has been expressly chosen as symbolic, and has a reason for being there. Examples of these are Alex’s knife which illustrates that he is a hardened criminal willing to kill, not just a punk. His father is at the kitchen table with a beer in front of him which portrays him as a working class man, and the Doctor has a clip board which she frequently checks, signifying that Alex is only of scientific concern and not really human to her. In an excellent scene change, the full moon is projected onto the back panel as wolves’ howl. Both sight and sound are ominous. Furniture slides in occupying most of the stage, to the actor’s left the writer’s desk with a typewriter upon it, in the center a comfortable looking sofa and stage right, a kitchen table. These items suggest both the inhabitants’ occupations and the feeling of coziness in their lives. A stone cottage and an ivy bound fence are projected onto the side screens portraying a rural setting, confirmed by the wolf sounds and only the moon for light. In another scene transition, a feeling of movement is conveyed as a series of constantly flipping pictures on the screens simulate the journey of going down the street to Alex’s home. These pictures, of places you would pass along the way, depict the type of neighborhood in which Alex resides, with chain link fencing and dilapidated buildings his environment unfolds before us. I noticed one error in timing during the play. When Alex came back home from his Ludivico treatment, the scene change on the screens was a few moments late, the blank screens caused little hesitation however. It was notable only because all of the set changes had been perfect up to this point. Upon entering his room Alex finds that someone is in his bed occupying his space physically and symbolically in his family home. Props have been changed so that the room now has a skateboard and a shiny silver boom box. The Beethoven posters and his record player is replaced with a newer and better boom box, so to Alex is replaced by a newer and better son! The Lighting Designer, Jeff “Flip” Stover and his assistant, Mike Klongpayabal, bathe the screens in colors, washing a mood over us with their choices. It is difficult to separate the sets, made up in large part by the towering screens from the lighting elements as they use them to project colors and patterns upon, so I have chosen occurrences to exemplify each one even though many are interchangeable. The play starts out with grayness symbolizing a bleak world as seen by us or perhaps by our characters. Alex introduces himself and his droogs in this setting. As the first scenes change, flashes of grey and purple are projected onto the screens. Later the color green is used to depict the putrid scene of an alley at night where Alex and his droogs beat up on a drunkard. The lights clearly display the scenes while still conveying the sense of darkness most of the time through shadow and grey light. The light that keeps the protagonist in view centers on him without putting him in a bright spotlight. During his soliloquies he steps forward and is lit, but it is the contrast as the background players’ light is diminished that helps him stand out. I felt that the prison chapel scene grabbed a hold of the audience, as right away you were transported to a place and character through lighting. The appropriate use of lighting to create a wide pathway of white light, as if from the heavens, as the priest walks from upstage to the front center, with the cross projected behind him, tells us of our location in the chapel and also of the chaplain’s faith. We find him looking into the light, looking for answers and the “good”. Alex stands in this lighted path while talking to the priest, symbolizing the questions; can Alex be saved by religion? Will the priest be able to help him? Costume designer, Robin Armstrong, chose to dress Alex and his droogs all in black to symbolize their evil ways and counter culture ideology, like the “Goth” youth of today. Alex’s importance as the main character and gang leader is well evidenced by his costume, as he is set apart by his elaborate long coat reminiscent of the romantic era. It is black and richly embroidered and it is worn with a system of chains that keep it linked to him. He wears black pants tucked into heavy black boots, appearing military or “Skin head” like. His droogs also dressed in black, are each dressed differently to illustrate their characters’ personalities. Dim, a large but simple character wears pants and boots and a simple black T, Georgie has long black pants worn with a black dress shirt and red shoes. These are significant as they make him stand out. He wants to lead the gang and is therefore a threat to Alex. Pete’s outfit is non-descript, he is the follower. I liked the use of glow sticks attached to the left shoulders of the police uniforms. They drew our attention, cueing us in on the importance of these characters at this moment and giving their typical uniforms a futuristic quality. The chaplain’s costume was a twist on the predictable clergy outfit of a black suit with standard white collar. It was edgy in that the front closure was at a sharp angle to one side rather than up the center front, closing military style with brass buttons. This seems a good choice for a futuristic society and could be begging the question; are church and state too closely linked in this prison? In the scene of the Ludivico treatment Robin has almost everyone dressed in white. I liked the way that this paints a picture of a sanitary detachment. Suggesting that rather than get involved with the messy business of why someone would act as Alex does they can “stay clean” by administering this treatment. The doctor’s costume in this scene is not a good choice in my opinion, as it did not appear doctor-like or professional. Perhaps they were going for a futuristic look with the zippered jacket, short black skirt, hose and heels, but I felt that she just appeared “trampy”. The fact that she is dressed in dark red and black my symbolize the evil she is committing in taking away Alex’s freedom but it was not effective to me. Sound Designer Andrew Duckworth makes good use of the original music composed and performed by Deborah Peer. The non-melodic, otherworldly sounds take us out of time and place to this unknown yet familiar world. Again a minimalist use of effects adds to their importance. The sound effects enhanced each scene as both the sound and timing were good throughout. They formed an intrinsic part of the play and I was not distracted by how they were executed. When the clear, realistic sound of wolves howling at the full moon is heard, it sets the audience on alert as an audio cue of the violence to come, as it is a relatable symbol for scary dark creatures of the night to come out. Once again in the pivotal Ludivico treatment scene all of the theatrical elements work to convey emotion. As Beethoven’s 9th symphony is played as part of the treatment we see that Alex feels it is a sin to use Beethoven in this way. This hurtful act starts a great buildup for the assault of images that shoot at high speed across the screen punctuated by the sounds of gunshots which build up to a crescendo culminating in Alex’s scream. The great timing of the shots with the images projected onto the screens simulates the assault of the violence of the pictures upon Alex, as he is strapped in his chair, helpless to stop it. We travel with him through his hellish treatment by being subjected to these sights and sounds while the medical attendants all around are unaffected. I thought that this was one of the best moments of the play, as the audience was truly drawn in to empathize with the protagonist. Another effective demonstration of pacing and scene change through the use of sound, is the use of the “flat line” sound as if on a medical computer screen, followed by the familiar rhythmic “beep, beep, beep” of hospital equipment. It sends us instantly back to the hospital, relieved to find Alex still alive as the lights come up and the play continues its pace toward the conclusion we are awaiting with interest. The music of Beethoven is an integral part of the play. We find this out as Alex describes his passion for it and falls asleep listening to it, implying that it brings him comfort. The classical music is not of the play’s futuristic era, however for each generation what is old is new again. Mr. Burgess’ use of this could suggest Alex’s youthful edginess, rebelling against the cultural conformity of his time. The pleasing music points out Alex’s relatable human side. To synopsize one part of the play, I must first define the three scripts. As I see them, the first is the story of Alex and his gang ways and the consequences of his behavior, the second is the story of society and how e make choices for the greater good, but how they are not necessarily good in and of themselves, and finally, the story of the “reformed” Alex and the choices that he makes as his new self. It is this latter part that I will discuss, as I found it to be the one whose plot was most problematic as some situations were unclear and some characters motivations in particular left me wondering what I had missed. In this last portion of the play, we watch as Alex, having undergone treatment and now considered “cured”, is presented to the media. He acts in a manner not to his choosing in order to protect himself. He is A Clockwork Orange, programmed to avoid the pain that the things that he used to like now cause him. He is then sent back into the real world. We have come full circle to the beginning of the play when Alex was introduced to us in a state of pain, on the ground vomiting. His world has changed. Someone has taken his place in his home and family, as I discussed earlier. He is in despair. He contemplates suicide even pulling out his knife, but it sick at the thought of it. We empathize with his predicament. He is trapped in this new form without any way out. To point this out even further, he is beaten by the college student that he had once taunted and beaten, then policemen come and it turns out that they are Alex’s old droogs. These representatives of good, who were bad, act in a “bad” way, also beating on Alex. All of these elements combine to demonstrate how Alex’s world has changed and to leave us questioning, what is good and what is evil? As it starts to rain the police leave him and Alex goes to find refuge. He comes upon a familiar home, that of the writer. Images of the cottage and trees projected on side screens in black and white and one of a book on the back screen also in black and white symbolizes the writer’s house at night and the bleakness of Alex’s situation. Alex spends the night and in the morning the same images are projected in color on the same three screens, illustrating daylight and the hope of a new beginning. Alex sings the same song, “It’s a small world”, that he had sung when he raped the writer’s wife. It was unclear to me whether or not the writer recognized him, as he was busy talking about how he could use Alex to demonstrate his political agenda, carrying on about how people must be prodded out of complacency. Alex has a flashback at the thought of his old crimes. Images of his past, (the past we have witnessed and recognize), flash randomly and repeatedly on the screens around him, faster and faster to the insistent sound of Alex, Alex, Alex, Alex…culminating in him knifing himself to stop the madness. And it all stops. Darkness. We then hear the flat line “Beeeeep” of a medical monitor and see eyeballs projected onto the screens. The rhythmic, beep, beep, beep, starts up and we are relieved to find Alex alive in the hospital. The nurse attends to him, and she shows signs of having feelings for Alex. The doctor then comes in and determines through the use of pictures that Alex is back to his old self again, successfully deprogrammed. He once again likes the thought of the bad things that can be done. He is told that the subversive writer who wished to use him for his own ends has been put away. Alex is proclaimed healthy and is free to go. The doctor tells him that she is his friend, as she is sure to take pictures with him for the media stating that she only wished for Alex’s well being all along. To the sounds of Beethoven we are shown that Alex is back to his old self, as he can hear it again without pain. He then parts with the nurse who kisses him lovingly and assists him with his coat. I felt that these feelings she has for him were not effectively explained in the play and seemed to come out of nowhere. Alex starts back on his old familiar ways, with a new gang of droogs at the same Korova milkbar. But he soon no longer feels in the mood to do the same old things anymore and tells his gang to go on without him. A quiet piano music plays as Alex, walking on, runs into his old droog Pete and his new wife. Alex finds out that Pete is now an upright member of society, no longer dressed rebelliously, on his way to a socially acceptable party. This chance meeting sparks thoughts of his future. Not so young anymore, he thinks. A future and a son to teach the lessons he has learned are appealing to Alex. He throws down his knife and proclaims that tomorrow is like a new chapter beginning for him. The main character of Alex was brilliantly portrayed by Brian J. Smith. His command of the difficult Nadsat language, with an accent reminiscent of a Scottish Brogue, was impressive as it was consistent throughout the play. He demonstrated Alex’s youthful exuberance, punch energy, and excitement as he moved about from foot to foot and up and down the stage when talking to his droogs or in confrontation with the other gang. In the scene where he is eating in his hospital bed he does such a good job of eating as one deprived for a long time would, that the audience laughs when he does not stop to politely listen to the chaplan’s turmoil over the Ludivico treatment, but continues eating, licking his fingers and talking with his mouth full. His portrayal of youthful glee and anticipation of freedom at going to the Ludivico treatment is well done as he hits the arms of his wheelchair with his hands repeatedly in an excited manner that appears too spontaneous to be acting. Alex’s rape victim, writer F. Alexander’s wife, as played by Michael Mercedes Rice was inconsistent to me. She did not seem scared enough while the attackers were in her home and her actions seemed delayed. Her timing for walking off stage and back on did not flow with the droogs’ malicious intent. On the other hand, her blank stare, as she looked out past the audience as she was being raped by Alex, suggested a victim going deep inside of herself in order to shut out the horror, and that look was effective and stayed with me for a long time afterward. The pedophile prisoner, JoJohn was portrayed by Thomas Dodson. He was good at appearing truly crazy rather than a caricature of a crazy person. He did not over act but subtly mumbled and rocked to emphasize his inner turmoil as he chose to attack Alex. Although it was difficult to make out what he was saying, this seemed intentional to emulate the mutterings of a madman. He also convincingly appeared dead, as the other prisoners propped him up and maneuvered him in the scene. I was truly impressed by the prisoners and medical staff in their ensemble work as they filtered onto the stage along with the sets. No one stood out as distracting from the whole, which made it all appear effortless. Inclusion, at the end of the play, when Alex professes that he will now “set about finding some devotchka or other who would be a mother to his son”, that “youth must go” and that “Alexlike growth up, oh yes”, I found myself asking why Alex’s criminal ways were now being reduced to teenage rebellion. He seemed to enjoy the violence too much for that. I also felt that it was heavy handed in the end, when the play had seemed more subtle with its messages, to have Alex restate the chaplain’s concern of whether good is still good if not freely chosen, as if we may not have figured out the moral! I do feel that this production of A Clockwork Orange was successful as a whole however, as it achieved what I believe are both Anthony Burgess’ and Brad Baker’s goal; to get us as members of society to ponder upon the nature of “Good and Evil” and think; “Could that be us?” “What is the status quo that we accept so easily?” The professional quality of the acting, the seamless effects and the excellent pacing make it enjoyable to suspend disbelief and experience the theatrical journey.
"A Clockwork Orange"