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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

‘1984’ a frightful and intense interrogation

Published: March 28, 2014
Section: Arts, Etc., Top Stories

“This is not your 10th grade English class,” said Sarah Waldron ’17 in her director’s note for Brandeis Players’ performance of “1984.” This much was clear instantaneously, as audience members entered the SCC theater on Thursday to see that Winston (Reno Kersey ’17) was already splayed across the stage on the ground, motionless. Chains were wrapped around his chest, and strapped to his chest was a device that looked like a bomb, which was later found to be an electrocution instrument.

The stage was bare, decorated only with grimy walls and a set of stairs. On two walls hung gray screens that blended in so well to the plain background that one couldn’t even notice them until the first time they lit up in the performance. These were “telescreens,” used to deliver messages from the infamous Big Brother. Even before the show started, a dark and frightening mood was set, exactly what one would expect from George Orwell’s iconic dystopian world.

The entire performance took place during Winston’s interrogation. Four nameless Party Members, played by Gabe Guerra ’14, Samantha LeVangie ’14, Raustin Hernandez ’14 and Ryan Millis ’15, joined Winston on stage, to aid in the interrogation. As a voice from above interrogated Winston, the Party Members acted out his actions from before he was caught. Guerra and LeVangie acted out the actions of Winston and his lover Julia. At the beginning, audience members may have felt confused as to what roles Guerra and LeVangie were playing. Were they acting out the scenes just for the audience, so that we didn’t get bored? Soon we learned that they were acting out the scene within the play as well, as their characters were also becoming confused about which side of the equation they were on.

“You must be precise,” the voiceover told Winston. When the voice convinces Winston to speak out loud, he admits, “Down with Big Brother.” Then Winston is electrocuted by the torture device strapped to his chest. The lights throughout the entire theater began to flash, and Kersey seized, screamed and actually fell to the ground. Kersey embodied the role of Winston brilliantly. During each instance of torture—physical or emotional—Kersey would scream and writhe and wither. Many times, globs of spit could be seen spewing out of his mouth as he cried out. The anguish was real, and the effort was constant throughout the entire performance.

Kersey did not leave the stage for the entire show. Audience members entered and he was there, motionless. During intermission and as the theater emptied afterward, when the lights were up he simply laid there, motionless. Here, Kersey demonstrated great strength, given he was under the audience’s eyes for approximately two and a half hours.

The entire cast held a high level of intensity for the entire show, which was even more impressive as there were no scene changes and barely any time offstage. One or two would leave for a moment, to change costumes, but that was it. The four Party Members often moved completely in sync together, creating an eerie picture of conformity. Hernandez and Millis gave vivid performances as various Party Members and friends from Winston’s diary. At one point, with Kersey, the three acted as friends. Hernandez hunched over embodying the paranoid word-obsessed character he played as he muttered and stuttered his words. At the same time, Millis questioned his fate in a fearful tone. Both also gave notably chilling performances as criminals later on, when demonstrating Winston’s capture.

While Kersey played the real Winston, Guerra spent much of the performance acting out the actions that the Kersey described, with LeVangie at his side as Julia. The couple displayed a wide range of emotion and energy. In one moment, they would be sitting quietly on a bench in the background, watching Kersey. The next moment, they would jump up, enraged, growling and fierce. They didn’t hold back in any aspect of the drama. When the romance between Winston and Julia was described, they appeared to simply switch into another gear and began holding each other close, even rolling on top of each other on the ground and thrusting, holding nothing back.

The atmosphere was thick with tension, but also with the paranoid fear that none of it was real, typical of Orwell’s world. Intermission was granted to the audience after an hour.

The second half dragged along. The retracing of Winston’s actions continued, and the point was finally reached where he had been captured and was sitting in front of the audience at the present moment. However, the audience was not free yet. Winston had to be broken, and so did we. Brian Levi Dorfman ’16 played O’Brien, the Party Member that tricked Winston into believing that there was a revolution forming. Dorfman acted as interrogator for the final movement of the show. He was calm and cold—a polar opposite of everyone else on stage.

“1984” “begs your attention. It demands your participation. It yanks you from comfort,” Waldron again warns the audience in the director’s note. She is right. The show drained the audience of a little bit of their own hope for two hours, just as Orwell and playwright Michael Gene Sullivan intended. Brandeis Players took a bold risk to put on a play of such a well-known novel, and it paid off. They presented a shocking and rattling performance.

“1984” will continue over the weekend with evening shows at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and matinees on Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. in the SCC Theater.