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A Clockwork Orange

Does God want goodness or the choice of goodness? Is a man who chooses to be bad perhaps in some way better than a man who has the good imposed upon him?
--- A Clockwork Orange ( page 95, Norton paperback edition).
Randy Falcon as Alex
Randy Falcon as Alex
In the canon of dystopian novels there are at least three 20th century classics: Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, and George Orwell’s 1984. Each is a cautionary tale, warning of the close proximity of totalitarianism – closer than one might think.

As the year opened, the Godlight Theater Company was scheduled to perform 1984 when a last minute squabble over rights led to a cancellation of the production. On short notice then, the ensemble elected to produce A Clockwork Orange since they had mounted it back in the fall of 2002. With a scant seven days rehearsal, director Joe Tantalo has fashioned a black-hearted romp at Theater C (the black box theater of 59E59), whose intimacy commutes mere audience voyeurism to the act of witnessing.

With schoolyard massacres and "wilding" a matter of public record, Clockwork seems to have even greater resonance forty years after publication. Alex is a fifteen-year-old "droog" – today we might call him a "gangsta" or simply a youth at risk. As the play opens he and his cohorts are lapping it up (literally) at Korova Milk bar – where a latte is laced with pharmaceuticals, appetizers to their evening’s ultraviolence.

That’s right – ultraviolence.

In envisioning this future Burgess invented a language – fusing elements of Russian, British slang, and even Shakespearean iambic pentameter. Alex’s embrace of his lingua franca demonstrates his dynamism and inability to conform. Only after a rape/assault becomes homicide is his immorality brought to bear. The penal system – working here in collusion with medical science – deems him ideal for social conditioning – an aversion therapy called the Ludovico Treatment. This riff on Pavlov channels Alex’s murderous impulses making any thoughts a circuit and redirecting them internally. The success is so total that he cannot even listen to his beloved Beethoven without spasming.

While director Tantalo uses both sight and sound to full effect – his scenes of mayhem are almost balletic while his usage of eerie synthesized fugues recalls the Wendy Carlos contributions to the Kubrick soundtrack – the play demands an intimidating charisma in its Alex. While Randy Falcon has been promoted by droog Peter to lead Alex between the 2002 production and the current one – and perhaps I was holding him to the impossibly high standard of Malcolm McDowell – his Alex didn’t make me surrender my wallet or squirm in my seat. And yet – I must confess to having enjoyed eavesdropping on the depravity – whether the carousing of the droogies or the government’s attempts at erasure.

That said, the production’s portrayal of nihilism is stirring. The cast ably handles the too-clever-by-half linguistic coinages (a glossary is helpful), raising questions about the nature of punitive versus so-called rehabilitative strategies. And as we prepare to confirm Alberto Gonzales as Attorney General – he who referred to the Geneva Convention as "quaint" – these questions of citizenship and torture are less and less theoretical.

Ironically, both the film adaptation by auteur Stanley Kubrick and the American edition of the Burgess novel ended on a more somber note where Alex’s conditioning is rescinded as political tides turn – leaving the world at his (or lack thereof) mercy. In this production, with the final chapter re-attached, Alex has grown up and at 20, he lades his childishly violent past away.

A Clockwork Orange
Based on the novella by Anthony Burgess
Directed by Joe Tantalo
Cast: Randy Falcon (Alex); Gregory Konow; David Bartlett; Mike Roche; David MacNiven; Katherine Boynton; Julie E. Fitzpatrick; Sarah Matthay; Dena Tyler; Sarah Cook; Jace McLean; Rocco Turso
Lighting and set design: Maruti Evans
Original music and sound design: Andrew Recinos
Costume design: Christian Couture
Running time: 90 minutes without intermission
Theater C at 59E59th, 59 East 59th St. 212-279-4200;
1/19/05 to 2/27/05
Performances Tuesday-Saturday at 8pm; Sunday at 3pm.
Ticket prices: $25.00; Members $17.50; Student rush $15.00; Phone:
Reviewed by Jerry Weinstein based on January 28th performance.
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