Julie H. Jordan
1984, the dystopian novel written by George Orwell in 1949, is now on the Broadway stage, having opened in The Hudson Theater after a preview in London. In its day, it was a shocker, commenting on the dangers of governmental control when taken to an extreme, and the subsequent impact on its inhabitants. Today, its message resonates in our modern world, and no one is denying the timely release of the dramatic version. However, what is in question is the manner in which it is being presented, based on the audience’s reaction to the piece.
Anyone familiar with the novel knows that Room 101 is the torture chamber for those that do not follow the party line, i.e. governmental rules and regulations. In the dramatic version, the decision was made to show this punishment in very graphic detail, complete with excessive blood spattering, screaming, and piercing jackhammer sounds coupled with uncontrolled strobe lighting and the torturers’ commands before Winston’s electrocution.
The effects on Broadway audiences included fainting, vomiting, and many yelling for the actors to stop during the performances. Of course, some left the theater as well.
While theater should serve to sometimes make us uncomfortable so we become introspective about our belief systems, causing audiences to become physically ill or disturbed enough to beg the actors to stop the play is taking it a bit too far. There are ways to drive the point home without such extremes. I liken this to the changes in horror films over the past decade. While Hitchcock showed a trickle of blood going down a drain in Psycho (a very effective and bone-chilling way to show the murder), now movies in the same genre have to show all of the graphic and disturbing visuals that go along with that. Frankly, I find Hitchcock a lot more effective.
So, I don’t think I’ll be rushing out to catch 1984 at The Hudson Theater. While I like leaving the theater feeling uncomfortable or challenged in my thinking, I don’t feel a need to be violently ill. I’ll stick with the book.