George Orwell is one of those names that seem to be on everyone’s mind even when you have never read a work of his. His unique take on communism, totalitarianism, and the vain nature of men has been studied for decades now, in high school and colleges. His work has been opening minds to have their own beliefs since he started putting pen to paper. Such a fascinating figure is the subject for the appropriately named “Orwell in America” by Joe Sutton, a love letter to the legendary writer whose real name was Eric Arthur Blair. Directed by Peter Hackett, we may be seeing the legend, but what we get in this production is an exploration of the man himself, which ends up being much more tantalizing in the end.
Set in Post World War II America, we follow Mr. Orwell on a fictional book tour through the aforementioned country. With him is a pretty young publisher whose assistance will get him through the rambunctious events, which always end with him arguing with an audience member. Through their travelings, they get to know each other and form a bond which both of them cherish, but hate at the same time. Orwell, portrayed here as an endearing alcoholic, yearns for a woman’s touch after his wife’s death. On the other hand, Carlotta is enthralled by the man’s mind and seeks to understand his behavior. During the upcoming months and stops, we see them develop into someone neither expected, teaching each other that people, at their most basic, are just flawed beings with desires.
While the play never fully develops into something that will create higher discussions about socialism and the way people are easily dissuaded, it does sparks the thought. The play is repetitive in its discussions, but they never feel tiring. They are evolving. Sutton’s work here is one that, just like its author’s rapport, evolves the same ideas from where they first appear until the resolution. What we get to see is two human beings having to confront change within, subtlety, and accept it to move on. I can’t say the execution was perfect, the tone was too light, and at times I felt the show could have just been a one-man show. But, Carlotta’s character journey is as important and not to have it robs the play of its impact.
The production had a problem with technical timing which affected the power of some strong moments. Transitioning from their personal scenes to when Orwell was speaking to his audience did not flow well. They were fast, interrupting the scenes, making no distinction between sides besides a slight change in lights that did not really make much of a difference. While it didn’t rob the strength of their more intimate moments, it did take us away from them.
Having said that, the acting in this show is superb. If the performers were not up to par, the technical mishaps may have distracted us from what was happening on stage, but not with Jamie Horton and Jeanna De Waal. Horton was not just an endearing alcoholic, but a man with drive and sadness in full display. His acting drew us more than the lines themselves, creating an Orwell who is both hungry to teach and hungry for knowledge. De Waal works perfectly as his partner in crime. She was sweet but strong, giving us reasons to care for her goals and sympathize with her when they were not met. She took an underwritten character and made her important.
“Orwell In America” will be showing at the 59E29 Theaters until October 30th. Even though it suffers from too many little problems creating a big one, the show was entertaining. It had my attention and it made for a very pleasant evening. And at the end, the audience saw a production that was on the cusp of greatness. It definitely delivers the goods.
Out of four stars:
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