‘A Clockwork Orange’ at Scena Theatre by Sydney-Chanele Dawkins

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Good.
Is being good truly good if it is not by choice?

Evil has to exist along with good, in order that moral choice may operate.

Evil.
Which is worse, chosen evil or forced good?

“A man who cannot choose ceases to be man…If he can only perform good or only perform evil, then he is a clockwork orange — meaning he has the appearance of an organism lovely with color and juice but is in fact only clockwork toy to be wound up by God or the Devil or the almighty State.”
— Anthony Burgess

Free Will.
The right for each person to choose right from wrong of their own is what makes a person human.

A Clockwork Orange.
In a clockwork society, human redemption will have to rise out of evil. If moral choice is lost we become machines.

This is the story of A Clockwork Orange. The story of good and evil and the value of choice.

“What’s it going to be then, eh?”

Extreme left Chris Aldrich, Sissel Bakken, Chris Stinson and Buck O’Leary in ‘A Clockwork Orange.’ Photo by Robert Bowen.

Scena Theatre celebrates its 25th season opener with an enticing nasty, little shocker, A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess’ 1962 dystopian world of impetuous, rebellious youth, directed by Scena Artistic Director, Robert McNamara. The provocative themes and stark terror captured in Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 cult film classic of the same title continue to be relevant today.

Described as a “play with music based on the novella”, this theatrical production includes original music and lyrics by Burgess and portions of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 – just don’t expect a musical or much harmonious singing or melodic tones. The songs sung are as gritty and rough as the nightmarish fantasy world that they live. The combination works, but the impact on the overall storytelling is minimal.

A Clockwork Orange explores youth disenchantment, their values, and their coming to terms with the extremes of wealth and systems that do not treat all as equals. Questioning the choice of free will and the responsibility of society and social order, this extreme allegory vividly illustrates how the government, family, church, and even incarceration can be ineffective against the will of somebody who has chosen to do wrong – whether he has a reason for it or not.

Brilliant, and disturbing, the plot follows Alex, the central character – a cynical and vicious fourteen year old – and his ‘Droogs’ gang of sadistic young punks. Nadsat – a mix of Russian and Cockney rhyming slang is the invented gangs speak Burgess created for this ultra society.

Alex has two loves in his life: listening to the classical music of Beethoven and causing cruelty and mayhem. Drinking drug-laced milk cocktails at the “Moloko” (milk) bar, the four ‘Droogs’ harass, brutally beat, and rape with zeal, until they plot their next crime.

After being betrayed by an accomplice, Alex is sentenced to prison where he volunteers to undertake a new, radical treatment that corrects the seemingly uncorrectable. Subjected to the will of the State, he’s violent tendencies are forcibly de-programmed with the ‘Ludovico Technique.’ But what is the cost of his supposed freedom? Little does he realize just how successful this treatment will be, and all the changes they will make.

The intimacy of the thrust stage and Set Designer’s Michael C. Stepowany’s simple but hypnotic, oversized eyeball set piece (with the pupil doubling as a stage entrance and exit) immediately pull the audience into the action, and sets the tone for the ‘Moloko’ bar and the graffitied milieu.

Although the stagecraft and dramatic unfolding is uneven at times, Marianne Meadow’s lighting design is stimulating, and the well-paced energy and spirited commitment of the performers make for an intriguing, theatrical experience.

In his Scena Theatre debut, Chris Stinson (Alex) impresses, taking the ultra-violent nature of Alex and making him sympathetic and surprisingly relatable despite his inhumanity towards other people.The physicality, and subtle and heighten extremes of his emotional journey allow a character arc few actors get to experience in one role. Stinson attacks the opportunity with passion, intensity, and a sincere determination. Yes, Alex is brash, abrasive and brutal, but credit Robert McNamara’s direction that by the end of A Clockwork Orange, that you question if he is not a victim too.

(L to R) “The Droogs”: Mitchell Grant, Chris Stinson, Chris Aldrich, and Armand Sindoni. Photo by Robert Bowen.

Multiple roles for nearly every actor (there are several performers portraying five and six characters) keeps this cast of 16 moving and on their toes.

Much to be enjoyed, is the shrewdness of 20 year Scena veteran, Michael Miyazaki’s (Chaplain, Photographer) two character performances, and finding the humor and memorable moments in every scene he’s in as the Prison Chaplain. His character serves as a moral choice reminder, voicing the need of free will. Hilarious and heartbreaking, menacing and flippant, Charlotte Akin’s (Dancer, Old Lady, Governor, Mother) talent runs the gamut with her four character scene stealing performances… and her dance cameos are priceless.

Topped with safety pinned bowler hats and dressed in black, silver studded and metal chained clothing by crafty Costume Designer Alisa Mandel, are the talented and well-teamed ensemble of Alex and his fiendish “Droogs” – Mitchell Grant (Georgie), Chris Aldrich (Pete), Armand Sindoni (Dim), who effectively maneuvered Paul Gallagher’s fight choreography with aplomb.

Aggression is an aspect of adolescence which maturity rejects.

Scena Theatre’s thought-provoking A Clockwork Orange concludes like the original ending of Anthony Burgess’ novel – leaving the audience with hope, and creating a world where people choose to behave appropriately rather than removing peoples’ right to make choices.

Change is possible, no matter what sort of person you are.

There is indeed hope for Alex, hence, hope for us all.

“What’s it going to be then, eh?”

Running Time: 2 hours with one intermission.

A Clockwork Orange plays through November 18, 2012, at H Street Playhouse, 1365 H Street NE, in Washington, DC. To purchase tickets, call the box office at (703) 683-2824, or buy them online.

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Sydney-Chanele Dawkins
Sydney-Chanele Dawkins is an award-winning feature filmmaker, film curator, film festival producer and a theater/film critic and arts writer. She also serves as an impassioned advocate for the Arts as Chair of the Alexandria Commission for the Arts in Alexandria, VA. Fearless. Tenacious. Passionate. Loyal. These characteristics best describe Sydney-Chanele's approach to life, her enthusiasm for live theater and the arts, and her cinephile obsession with world cinema. Her successful first film, 'Modern Love is Automatic' premiered at SXSW in Austin, Texas, and made its European debut at the Edinburgh Film Festival. She recently completed her third film, the animated - 'The Wonderful Woes of Marsh' - which is rounding the film festival circuit. In 2013, Sydney-Chanele produced the box office hit,Neil Simon's Rumors for the McLean Community Players at Alden Theater, Her next producing effort in 2014 is Pearl Cleage's 'Blues for an Alabama Sky' for Port City Playhouse. Programmer for Cinema Art Bethesda and Co Chair of the Film Program for Artomatic, Sydney-Chanele is the past Festival Director of the Alexandria Film Festival, the Reel Independent Film Festival,and Female Shorts & Video Showcase. She is active in leadership and programming positions with DC Metro area Film Festivals including: Filmfest DC, DC Shorts, the Washington Jewish Film Festival, Arabian Sights Film festival, and AFI Docs. Please feel free to contact me with your comments and questions - sydneychanele@gmail.com [Note: Sydney-Chanele Dawkins passed away on July 8, 2015, at age 47, after a battle with Breast Cancer.]