Clockwork Performance

By the

February 15, 2001

Maybe it’s the caffeine running through my red, red krovvy, maybe it’s that I just slooshed a tomtick of the ol’Ludwig van or maybe skolliwoll’s giving me a pain in the gulliver, but Oh My Brothers, I must govorett that was a real horrowshow of a play.

Nadsat?the language of Alex, the narrator protagonist of Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange.

It’s as good a place as any to start. This is not an easy play to put on. The bulk of it is in a fictious language and add to that the violence, the rape and the cult status of its film version. For a small company of actors, like the Studio Theater Secondstage, it is an amazingly delicate play to mount.

Under the direction of Mike Chamberlain and with strong performances by Scot McKenzie as Bad Boy Alex and Suzanne Richard as both The Wife and Dr. Brodsky, it comes off wonderfully.

McKenzie and Richard are both veterans of the D.C. stage and it is on their backs that the key storylines of the show ride. McKenzie plays Alex as clever, funny, vicious, likable and believable. To master his role, McKenzie had to internalize all of Nadsat such that it looked like his first language.

Richard had no easier task. As first the Wife, Richard has to play victim of a vicious rape, reacting to Alex and his droogs. She then switches roles to that of Alex’s tormentor as Dr. Brodsky, the inventor of the Ludovico Technique that is meant to cure Alex’s evil. The humor and consistency that Richard maintains across the range of her characters is impressive and creates a fun irony for the audience.

Beyond strong acting, what holds this whirlwind of action together is the way the production sets out its physical space. With but a minor gripe about a large number of seats with obstructed views, the physical space ties the audience to the story and makes it believable to them.

To create a near future world, Chamberlain decided to move to the Secondstage space which is actually the original Studio Theater, about a block away from the current Studio Theater. At Secondstage, Chamberlain was able not only to use a grungy warehouselike space to create the feel of a near future distopia but also to expand that space to the outdoors to create an illusion of reality to the story.

With the help of Giorgos Tsappas, Chamberlain was also able to set up the play in the style of theater-in-the-round, tying the audience to the story.

“The idea was to let the violence sprawl out of the center of the arena and infect the audience. For me, Clockwork had to be done this way,” Chamberlain said.

Divided into three parts, A Clockwork Orange tells the story of the life of 17 year-old Bad Boy Alex, growing up in London of the near future. The structure of the show, which Burgess helped adapt for the stage, closely follows the structure of the original novella.

The audience learns of Alex’s penchant for the surprise visit (home invasion), the old in-out (rape) and ultra-violence (murder). Soon Alex is incarcerated and undergoes behavior modification treatment. Finally as he reenters society, he experiences its unforgiving and brutal reaction to him, despite or perhaps because of his treatment. He controls his life, he loses that control and then he is attacked by those whom he once victimized.

But a simple rundown of the plot glosses over the key questions that Burgess’ work incites as the Priest asks Alex: is it possible to “really make a man good?” And if so, what is the cost? Is morality more important than moral choice?

Avoiding the numbing effects of the Kubrick’s romp of violence in the movie and the paralyzing complexity of the novella, the theatrical production is the most accessible of all the mediums through which to experience A Clockwork Orange and get at those questions.

No cal. This a bugatty, bezoomny show. Itty Viddy it.

A Clockwork Orange is showing at The Studio Theatre Secondstage on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights at 8:30 p.m. until March 4, 2001. Tickets are $15. Questions, call (202)332-3300.

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