October 21, 2014
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Theatre Review
Timeless ‘1984’ at Gamm
Don Fowler
Jed Hancock-Brainerd (Martin), Georgia Cohen (Julia), Richard Noble (O'Brien), Jim O'Brien (Winston Smith).

The haunting warnings of George Orwell’s classic novel "1984" are brought alive on stage at the Sandra Feinstein Gamm Theatre in Pawtucket.

Adapted by Nick Lane and directed by Tony Estrella, “1984” is a tough, talky tribute to the book that most of us read in high school or college.

Big Brother is watching you, and the terrific cast at Gamm, as protagonist Winston Smith (Jim O’Brien in a great performance), fights totalitarianism against impossible odds. Estrella uses multi-media effects against a stark set, with a piercing eye keeping a close watch over the proceedings.

The Thought Police are everywhere, redefining history to their making and insisting that everyone agree with their interpretations, which may change at the drop of a hat.

Georgia Cohen, Richard Noble, Jed Hancock-Brainerd and Casey Seymour Kim all act as narrators, filling in many of Orwell’s thoughts and ideas, in addition to playing numerous roles. While the technique works, it is a bit of overkill, as the narrative often overwhelms the action and goes on a bit too long.

Orwell wrote the novel back in 1949 when the threat of Communism was staring the world in its face. Many of its implications are as real as they were in 1984 and in 2012. Orwell’s visions of a society where the media and the government control our thoughts and thought-crimes are punishable by torture and death are as real today in many parts of our world as they were when he wrote the novel. This makes Gamm’s “1984” a play to be seen, even though it is a bit of overkill at times.

Jim O’Brien is fantastic as Winston Smith. He has captured his feelings, frustrations, scary dealings with the inappropriate feeling of love, and tormented reactions to what is going on around him. The torture scene (one example of overkill) is frightening, requiring a skilled approach to his complex character. “War is Peace.” “Freedom is Slavery.” “Ignorance is Strength.”

These are the tenets of the Thought Police, being hammered at the masses, who can’t even remember what it was like before the revolution. Smith himself works for the Ministry of Truth, rewriting history to fit the needs of Big Brother, frighteningly documenting a war that changes enemies and never ends.

You may not always feel comfortable watching this intense play, but it will make you think. And that is what Estrella craves to do…and does best.

“1984” is at the Gamm Theatre in Pawtucket through May 27. Tickets are $34 and $42. For reservations call 723-4266 or go online at www.gammtheatre.org.


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