I’m a big fan of Bricolage’s Midnight Radio series. At each installment, usually created around a theme, a group of actors and musicians stages a faux radio show replete with a dizzying array of sound effects. They’re bright, breezy evenings, funny, quirky and quick.
This time the company steps away from that template to present an adaptation by Alan Lyddiard of George Orwell’s dystopian classic 1984. Jeffrey Carpenter directs a high-quality cast: Brett Goodnack as Winston, Sara Williams as Julia, and Paul Guggenheimer as O’Brien, with John Michnya and Sean Patrick Sears playing the other roles and supplying most of the sound effects. Jason Coll is the musical director, with fine work from Kira Bokalders on clarinet and cellist Will Teegarden.
In place of the usual skits and comedy vignettes, the evening here is mostly a straight-ahead relating of the Orwell novel … which turns out to have its pluses and minuses.
As my date said: “This really makes me want to go reread the book.” And that’s a good thing. 1984 is an essential read anytime … and perhaps now more than ever. The problem turns out to be that the book is too big for the Midnight Radio format. There are massive ideas discussed in the novel; Orwell’s thoughts about capitalism, socialism, collectivism and, more than anything, the nature of language and its correlation to thought.
But limited by its design to relating the book’s incidents, rather than its ideas, this radio version can’t possibly contain more than 10 percent of that thematic content. We follow the travails of Winston Smith and his rebellion against, and ultimate absorption into, Big Brother’s totalitarian state. But the concept of “Doublethink,” perhaps Orwell’s central tenet, is never explored.
Don’t get me wrong: While I was wishing for much more, there’s no question that what Bricolage has created is up to its usual standards. The pace and precision is spot on, and it’s rather miraculous to witness how an actor, in this case Goodnack, using nothing but his voice and a microphone, can create such harrowing drama.
Bricolage’s 1984 is not all it could be, but what it is is highly compelling.