1984 by George Orwell, adapted by Eli Lukawitz, Samuel Owen and Ben Bain, with Owen, Don Tripe, Lauren Brotman, Lara Berry, Alan Dilworth, Andrew Penner, Gord Noel and Rick Torres. Presented by Tribal Productions at the Studio Theatre, Toronto Centre for the Arts (5040 Yonge). Runs to May 10, Thursday-Saturday 8 pm. $30. 416-870-8000. Rating: NN Rating: NN
More than half a century after its publication, George Orwell's 1984 remains a powerful story of a society that stifles individual imagination and any form of dissent. That power rarely emerges in Tribal Productions' multimedia adaptation by Eli Lukawitz, lead performer Sam Owen and collaborator Ben Bain.Set in Oceania (read London), the story follows the rebellion and rehabilitation of Winston Smith (Owen), a government worker who breaks the law by falling in love and having an affair with fellow worker Julia (Lauren Brotman). Smith missteps again by thought crime, believing there's some validity in the treasonous beliefs of an underground party.
The show opens by tying the underlying themes of Big Brother and doublethink to U.S. actions in Iraq and the media bafflegab around the war, but what follows is a hollow representation of the dystopic novel. This is a world where all feelings except hatred of the repeatedly changing enemy are suppressed, but that's all the more reason to suggest something else in the lives of the rebels.
Here we get nothing. Owen is emotionally neutral in both private and public scenes, not even suggesting a subtext of feeling in how he deals with Julia or his nostalgia for a past he's never known. His terror in Room 101 - a place supposedly used to cure, not torture - is barely acknowledged and therefore not understood by the audience.
Only Don Tripe as O'Brien, the party member who Smith thinks may be a counter-agent, generates some sense of menace in what should be a very scary world indeed.