A Clockwork Orange: Inciting Sexual Excitiment, But Luckily, No Violence.
The film, A Clockwork Orange, that this play is based on is considered a classic by most, and can be found on numerous ‘best films of all time’ lists. It’s a shocking and violent indictment of society adapted, directed, and produced by Stanley Kubrick back in 1971. Although much maligned and misunderstood at the time (my friend and theatre companion had never seen the movie because it had been withdrawn from release in England by Warner Brothers at the request of Kubrick in response to allegations that the film was responsible for copy cat violence), I was thrilled to see how a stage production of the tale of Alex and his gang of droogs on a teenage rampage of rape and violence could manifest itself live on stage. And would it instill the same see saw of emotional discomfort as it did when I saw the film decades ago.
A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess, originally developed and presented by Action to The Word (U.K) still snaps of relevance and power, But maybe not as much as it did so many years ago. As directed with precision and high sexual voltage by Alexandra Spencer-Jones, I gather it will certainly be embraced by the theatre community of New York City, just like the film was. It has the slickness and the detailed eroticism that generally helps fill the seats, but oddly feels a bit more shallow and a tad less emotionally connecting. There is definitely a strong precise vision of how to tell this complicated and violent story through the impressive and athletic choreography and stagecraft, and that aspect works majestically. Much like the production of Afterglow over at The Davenport Theatre, the homoeroticism of the incredibly ripped and sculptured all male cast pumping and writhing in highly charged sweat inducing choreographed moments, is sure to entice and excite. The crowds will come, but at least in A Clockwork Orange, the beauty of this piece is set more strongly in the story of Alex. Set to a blazingly loud score of Beethoven and rock guitar (original music composed by Glenn Gregory and Berenice Scott; Sound design: Emma Wilk), his depravity and salvation, if you want to call it that, is never discarded or minimized, but amped up into a frenzy of ultra sexual and violent moments filled with potential meaning and criticism of the state of our society.
Center stage for the most part is Jonno Davies (West End’s Shakespeare in Love, Film: ‘Kingsman: The Secret Service’) in a star-making performance as the ultimate idolized bad boy, Alex. Dangerous and demented, while also holding us firmly in his handsome and charismatic gaze, the actor, who is also credited with the title, ‘fight captain’, is giving us his all, and succeeding marvelously. Sporting the perfectly sculptured body, hair, and face of a Versace model selling us expensive cologne, he has surprisingly crafted out a fairly detailed persona of a man pulled to the extremes of violence without giving much of a choice in the matter. Choice, being one of the stronger themes in the mix. He has the ability, even while sprouting difficult to understand lines made up of a fractured and combined Slavic and Cockney slang (dialect coach: Stephen Gabis), to give us a vantage point to understand the bigger components that Anthony Burgess’s 1962 novel was trying to comment on: psychiatry, juvenile delinquency, antisocial behavior treatments, youth gangs, and other social and political statements.
At Alex’s side, at least in the beginning, are the three others that make up this disturbingly violent gang of thugs, Pete (Misha Osherovich), Georgie (Matt Doyle), and Dim (Sean Patrick Higgins), a loud and overly grimacing group of delinquents. Expertly tackling the intense choreography and fight scenes like a powerful Sergei Polunin on a roid-rage high, the three, along with the rest of the cast who play multiple roles (Jimmy Brooks, Brian Lee Huynh, Ashley Robinson, Timothy Sekk, and Aleksander Varadian) do a great job in moving the tale forward at a hyperactive non-stop pace. It’s a shame that they are directed into a campiness and over-the-top manner with extreme facial expressions at every moment of the game. This intensity and cartoonish behavior is partnered with what feels like a constant yelling of lines that lack definition and solidness coupled with some wavering accents. Some moments of subtlety and more exacting characterizations might have helped center the story into a deeper emotional space, but the grimaces and the high octane deliveries never give us a chance to see the others as anything beyond cartoons. Doyle, who was so wonderful as Hanschen in the original Spring Awakening and Billy in War Horse on Broadway, maybe the only one who advances himself out of the masses by giving us a bit more personal pain and expression, especially in the scene when homosexual desire, love, eroticism, and brutal violence collide in the highly charged interaction with Alex. Georgie becomes something more than just another antisocial delinquent in a dystopian near-future Britain. His pain registers.
Even as they fist fight and pump each other off, the air is thick with an idea of lost boys on steroids. The production is loud and exciting, glossy and sharp (lighting design: James Baggaley; costume coordinator: Jennifer A. Jacob) sure to attract the crowds it deserves. Brandishing all that will help it succeed here in New York City, this slick roller coaster ride of homoerotic pleasure and pain doesn’t resonate too deeply. Kubrick’s film (click here for the epic trailer) left me shaken and concerned about where are world was heading. The film is difficult to watch, even in it’s brilliance. But unlike the film, which was accused of inciting numerous copycat style violence in England, this production doesn’t have that same power to disturb. This play leaves you titilated but emotionally disengage and unbothered. Maybe that’s a good thing, as the film, many have said (not including me), borders on the obscene and pornographic. A Clockwork Orange at the New World Stages won’t change the world, nor comment too harshly on it. It’s an exciting tale, but lacks political or social punch. The only thing it might incite, beyond theatrical thrills and excitement, may be some local overtly sexual theme parties and risqué Halloween costumes.