Review: Pendragon Theatre’s 1984 is a Must-See, Emotional Gut Punch

1984 is currently being performed on the
Pendragon Theatre stage
“He who controls the past, controls the future. He who controls the present, controls the past.”
~ George Orwell, 1984

Summary: George Orwell’s original book was written in 1949, after WWII. Michael Gene Sullivan’s adaptation of George Orwell’s 1984 brings to life a dystopian world where news is altered to fit the words of Big Brother and showing emotions, demonstrating love, and thinking against the establishment are all crimes.  

Where: August 29, 30, 31, September 1,2 at 8 pm and September 3 at 2 pm. at PendragonTheatre, Brandy Brook Ln, Saranac Lake 
September 10 at 3 pm in Old Forge VIEW
September 22 at 7:30 pm at Lake Placid Center for the Arts
September 29 at 7:30 pm at Glen Falls’ Wood Theatre
October 12 at TBD at Plattsburgh’s Strand Theater
October 14 at 7 pm at Blue Mountain Lake’s Adirondack Lake Center for the Arts.

Winston Smith is shown his crime: owning
a book and writing his own thoughts in a diary
(Saranac Lake) It has been quite a few years since I’ve read George Orwell’s book “1984,” but its emotional rollercoaster still hits hard for my daughter and myself as we watch drama unfold amongst the minimalist set on the Pendragon Theatre stage. Its political statement is still the same. A warning to all to be mindful on the assault on personal freedoms can lead to restriction of individual thought.

We walk to our seats as Prisoner #6079 lays chained to the floor in the center of the stage as if we are the executioners waiting to hear his confession. My daughter glances tentatively at me. I’ve warned her this play is not lighthearted, but focuses on a world where emotions, individual thought, and opinion are against the law. A world where only the leader “Big Brother” is given the power to reason and decide.

Director Mason Wager pulls a powerful performance out of each of his actors. Christopher Leifheit reigns as Prisoner #6079 Winston Smith. He channels a range of emotions from terrified, tortured prisoner to idealistic worker who questions why his job is to rewrite history to fit the dialog of his leader. He makes us feel each electric jolt and gut punch. Owning two books is an act of treason and his personal diary is the ultimate betrayal as he catalogs his disillusions with Big Brother.

Mary Olin Geiger’s scenic design reinforces the institutionalized arena of sameness. Industrial benches surround the Prisoner Smith and the Party members while the walls of opaque plastic are reminiscent of science experiences or haunted houses. Smith (Leifheit) is being asked to explain why he has been brought into the Ministry. His own written words are reenacted by Party members wiped of emotion, no longer capable of understand anything but what Big Brother tells them.
The past blends with the present as Smith
is asked to relive his diary entries
Though the set never alters, the ensemble team of actors shift us from past to present with lightning speed. Kent Streed’s costumes reinforce this colorless world by dressing each party member in similar grey suits and black shoes. It is gang mentality at its worse as each person quickly shouts for Hate Week, mindlessly changing alliances if Big Brother decrees it so.

Leslie Dame, Terry Kemp, Liv Paulson, and Brenden Gotham are masterful as they morph from bland, mindless interrogating party members to an antique dealer, young Smith and his lover or nosy neighbor and bratty kids. The diary drives the narrative as Smith is given shock treatment for each answer that he ignores the advice to “Be Precise” from the echoing overhead voice (Mark Mainville.) The audience does not know what is truth and what is Big Brother propaganda. My daughter whispers in my ear how Big Brother eliminates words to create an ignorant society and how hate is contagious.

“He who controls the past, controls the future. He who controls the present, controls the past.”
~ George Orwell, 1984

I won’t summarize the play, but I will say this. Carve out time from your busy schedule to see a performance. This play is not for the faint of heart, but it is a powerful, thought-provoking piece of art that is very relevant today. This action-packed play and the brilliant performance of each of its actors leaves us speechless. As we exit, we sit in our car and peel back the first layers, never really scratching the surface of this commanding piece.

*The show is not recommended for children under thirteen years of age.   

Cast and crew:
Director: Mason Wagner
Cast: Leslie Dame, Brendan Gotham, Terry Kemp, Mark Mainville, Liv Paulson, and Christopher Leifheit as Winston Smith.
Original Music: Sam Balzak, Lucky Cerruti
Scenic Design: Mary Olin Geiger
Costumes: Kent Streed
Lighting Design: Kent Barrett
Sound Design: Mason Wagner and Candi Hannold
Stage Manager: Candi Hannold
Touring Stage Manager: Peggy Orman
Prop Construction: Mary Olin Geiger and Terry Kemp

© Diane Chase is the author of the Adirondack Family Time™ guidebook series. Adirondack Family Time™guidebooks have easy, short Adirondack family hikes for ADK kids, parents, retired, seniors, dog-owners, Adirondack swimming holes, Lake Placid Olympic activities, Adirondack trivia, Adirondack horseback rides, Adirondack snowshoe family trails and more. Look for the Adirondack family guidebooks online or bookstores/museums/sporting good stores. Diane is currently working on the next Adirondack Family Activities™ guide.

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