Review: 1984 (AstonRep Theatre)

| September 19, 2017

Ray Kasper, Nora Lisa Ulrey, Amy Kasper, Rory Jobst and Lauren Demerath star in 1984, AstonRep Theatre             


Adapted from novel by George Orwell 
  by Robert Owens, Wilton E. Hall Jr.
  and William A. Miles Jr.
at Raven Theatre, 6157 N. Clark (map)
thru Oct 8  |  tix: $20  |  more info
Check for half-price tickets    


The opposite of an Orwellian nightmare


Ray Kasper, Nora Lisa Ulrey, Amy Kasper, Rory Jobst and Lauren Demerath star in 1984, AstonRep Theatre

AstonRep Theatre Company presents

Review by Lauren Emily Whalen

Having seen two different adaptations of 1984 (the previous one in 2015), I can only conclude that George Orwell’s classic is unadaptable. Not so with Orwell’s “Animal Farm,” an allegory of Joseph Stalin and the Russian Revolution, which received an excellent, disturbing adaptation from Steppenwolf for Young Adults in 2014. I’m not sure what it is about 1984 that doesn’t work on stage: its on-the-nose prescience; its heavy presence in the cultural zeitgeist? All I know is that AstonRep’s presentation 1984 doesn’t gel. For a high-stakes story of a dystopian society, it’s remarkably tedious when it’s not over-the-top silly, with a central romance that’s nothing short of gag-inducing.

Sarah Lo and Ray Kasper star in 1984 at AstonRep Theatre Company1984 follows Winston Smith (Ray Kasper), a disillusioned citizen of Oceania and member of the society’s Outer Party (essentially its middle class bureaucrats). Tasked with essentially rewriting history while eluding the Thought Police, Winston remains under the watchful telescreen eye of Big Brother. When Winston meets Julia (Sarah Lo) and they fall in love, the two move into a small place of their own run by a kind landlady (Lorraine Freund) and decide to join the resistance movement, led by a member of the Inner Party (a version of the one percent) who may not be what she seems.

Written in 1949, Orwell’s novel 1984 became a worldwide phenomenon and popularized the phrase “Big Brother is watching you.” And to be sure, the novel was groundbreaking for its time and predicted the onset of technology, and even the current era of “alternative facts” and “fake news.” That said, it’s possible the story has lost its shock value and emotional depth over the years. Even the recent New York production had to rely on a controversial torture scene to get press. Even if the novel is still powerful and resonant, however, not every work of literature is fit for adaptation, and 1984 may be one of them. Though Steppenwolf for Young Adults’ adaptation had a bigger budget and took a somewhat different take on the story, the play was still less than compelling. And even with a torture scene, audiences tend to want more than shock value.

Tim Larson, Alexandra Bennett and Ray Kasper, Rory Jobst and Lauren Demerath star in 1984Sarah Lo and Ray Kasper star in 1984, AstonRep Theatre

Besides an uneven adaptation, AstonRep’s production suffers from Robert Tobin’s lackluster direction (every scene feels about 20 minutes long and no one seems to know how to pick up a cue). The central romance of Winston and Julia is chemistry-free and the actors are so far apart in age (Lo appears much younger than Kasper) that it’s unsettling to watch, not to mention unbelievable. Both Alexandra Bennett (as Winston’s gung-ho coworker) and Amy Kasper (as the Inner Party leader of the secret resistance) overact to the point of being ridiculous. Only Freund as the elderly Landlady and Nora Lise Ulrey as Parsons’ teenage daughter and an overzealous coffee vendor, transcend the limitations of the jumbled script and fully embrace their characterizations.

Now is the time for theater that makes one think: in the age of Trumpism, challenging art is more essential than ever. However, 1984 is not that. Instead of challenging the audience, this adaptation of a classic novel bores and panders to us. The opposite of an Orwellian nightmare, AstonRep’s 1984 puts one to sleep.

Rating: ★½

1984 continues through October 8th at Raven Theatre’s West Stage, 6157 N. Clark (map), with performances Thursdays-Saturdays 8pm, Sundays 3:30pm.  Tickets are $20 (students and seniors: $15), and are available by phone (773-828-9129) or online through their website (check for availability of half-price tickets). More information at time: 1 hour 50 minutes, includes an intermission)

Rory Jobst,  Lauren Demerath, Amy Kasper, Ray Kasper and Sarah Lo star in 1984, AstonRep Theatre

Photos by Emily Schwartz 




Alexandra Bennett (Parsons), Lauren Demerath (Messenger, Waiter, Ensemble), Lorraine Freund (Landlady), Ian Harris (Goldstein), Amy Kasper (O’Brien), Ray Kasper (Winston Smith), Rory Jobst (Martin, Big Brother), Tim Larson (Syme), Nora Lise Ulrey (Gladys, Coffee Vendor, Ensemble), Sarah Lo (Julia), Sara Pavlak McGuire (Telescreen)

behind the scenes

Robert Tobin (director, violence design, video design), Aja Wiltshire (costume design), Dana Anderson (assistant director), Heather Branham Green (stage manager), Jeremiah Barr (technical director, scenic design, props design), Samantha Barr (production manager, sound design, lighting design), Derek Bertelsen (associate artistic director, marketing), Matthew Hahn (dramaturg), Gerard Jamroz (assistant video design), Kendra Kingsbury (voice, movement), Sara Pavlak McGuire (casting director), David Rosenberg (publicist), Emily Schwartz (photography), Lea Tobin (assistant costume, graphic design, house manager, box office manager).

Ray Kasper and Rory Jobst star in 1984, AstonRep Theatre


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Category: 2017 Reviews, Adaptation, AstonRep Theatre, Lauren Whalen, Raven Theatre West Stage

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