A Clockwork Orange--A Pulverizing Adaptation of a Brutal Novel
By Joseph Cervelli
Oh, that prolonged stare which is both eerily seductive and frightening. I am speaking of the leader of the Droogs, Alex (a mesmerizing Jonno Davies), who may exude sexual prowess but beware of this maniacal young man who is ready to tear you to shreds on a whim. Based on Anthony Burgess’s dystopian novel “A Clockwork Orange” this pulverizing stage production at New World Stages utilizes dance in both stunning ballet and military style movements. The book was turned into the brilliant Stanley Kubrick film of the same title.
Alex and his band of equally crazed hoods Dim (Sean Patrick Higgins), Pete (Misha Osherovich) and Georgie (Matt Doyle) along with a few other undesirables along the way with their androgynous looks take to robbing, rape, mutilation with not the slightest compunction of guilt. For them this is their goal in life and standards of society is something that means nothing. They even have invented their own language to offset themselves from others which is spoken throughout this dazzling work directed with incredible self assurance by Alexandra Spencer-Jones.Don’t be put off by the unintelligible dialogue when these cretins are addressing each other for you will easily get the gist of their conversation.
When not marauding through the streets, they take up residence at the MilkBar where they're drinking something as wholesome as milk is so incongruous with their sordid behavior. Although you become aware the milk has been spiked with some drugs which add to their violent nature.
In one scene you see Alex in a striking pose of full assault standing on what is supposed to be the roof of the house (no credit for set design) breaking in with his friends and killing a woman. Throughout all this horrific behavior classical musical is being played (his idol is Beethoven) which gives him the sickening inspiration to carry on. Interspersed with Beethoven is Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s catchy “Relax.” Taken away by the police (each of the male cast plays a multitude of roles) Alex enters a program of rehabilitation in which he is forced to look at violent images and films to cure him of his destructive behavior. His eyes are kept open so he cannot look away. During this “treatment” he is also listening to Beethoven so eventually any sight of violence or hearing the composer’s music will make him physically ill.
When released he has nowhere to go for his parents don’t want him (his mother is having an affair with their lodger). His fellow Droogs have now become police officers and while they beat him he lies defenceless, since he is unable to involve himself in any type of violence. I shall not divulge any further except to say that the ending of the play follows the book not the film.
The production is enhanced by the almost film noir style of lighting by James Baggaley. But what makes the play work so well is the amazingly talented cast who exhibit a Bacchanalian energy to every scene they are in. Led by Davies who looks like he was the inspiration for the statue David he is quite unbelievable as he is transformed from this barbarous young man (he is really supposed to be fifteen) to a cowering, frightened individual. His writhing and convulsive movements on the floor after the so called treatment he was given is astonishingly real.
Spencer-Jones has given the play a more homo-erotic style although there is nothing prurient about it and when Alex plants cold kisses on some other men you are never sure if they are male or female characters. It really does not matter for to these characters sex is just that. Love is anathema to all of them. Spencer-Jones has expertly brought to life Burgess’s creation of characters with their lack of remorse and morality. The infusion of dance (no credit is given to a choreographer in the program) only intensifies the play's savage nature which is so stylish that there is an almost obscene beauty.
You may turn away at a few of the scenes, but the cast will draw you in as you enter a harrowing world that you will not easily forget.
Tickets are available at New World Stages 350 West 50th Street or by calling 212.239.6200. As of this date the limited engagement ends January 8.
PHOTO CREDIT: CAITLIN MCNANEY