Ranked among the greatest novels of the 20th century, A Clockwork Orange – British author Anthony Burgess’s alarming vision of a dystopian future fueled by ultra-violence, hyper-sexuality, and readily-available drugs – has inspired a range of controversial cutting-edge adaptations since its publication in 1962, from Andy Warhol’s experimental underground film Vinyl (1965) to Stanley Kubrick’s acclaimed Oscar-nominated movie (1971) to the author’s own stage treatment with music (1987), and subsequent musical productions in Germany (in 1988, with a punk-rock score by Die Toten Hasen) and England (in 1990, by the Royal Shakespeare Company). Action To The Word’s latest original interpretation, directed by Alexandra Spencer-Jones and making its New York premiere at New World Stages following an award-winning smash-hit debut in London, marks the 100th anniversary of Burgess’s birth in 1917, with a work that remains as disturbingly relevant today as it was when it first appeared in the Sixties (if not more so, considering the current state of the world), and as grippingly powerful as any of the versions that came before it.
Much of that is due to an unceasingly riveting performance by Jonno Davies (who also starred in the London production) as antihero Alex deLarge, the unconscionably vicious, surprisingly intelligent, and inescapably charismatic fifteen-year-old leader of the “Droogs,” who has a heightened appreciation for both Beethoven and BDSM. He aggressively leads his brutal gang of juvenile delinquents, as they attack, rape, and terrorize their community, swill glasses of drug-laced milk at the local bar, and speak in a fluent combination of Cockney English and their invented colloquial “Nadsat,” until he is imprisoned and subjected to harrowing behavior-modification aversion therapy by equally brutal adult professionals. Davies dominates the stage with his sociopathic intensity, seductive swagger, physical prowess, and sardonic wit, in a characterization that transitions from unabashedly sadistic to wholly reformed (more from his own growth and maturation than from his institutionalized criminal deconditioning), as he renounces his youth and the acts he committed.
The show’s impact can also be credited to Spencer-Jones, who directs the all-male cast of nine in a potent testosterone-driven blend of extremely loud and belligerent mannered speech and highly stylized movement, signaled by the high-decibel music of “lovely Ludwig Van,” post-modern rock, and original compositions by Glenn Gregory and Berenice Scott (sound design by Emma Wilk), which together evoke the surreality of Burgess’s unnerving futuristic view. The inspired dance and fight choreography is at once balletic, acrobatic, and athletic, robotic, homoerotic, and theatrical (with a nod to the rival gangs of West Side Story). Performed by the perfectly sculpted Davies and the muscular men of the ensemble, we are deluded into seeing beauty in the shocking ferocity and sexual cruelty enacted on stage, and into laughing at its exceedingly dark humor, aided by our cultural desensitization to violence through its ubiquitous appearance in film, television, theater, and the daily news. It’s an incisive message about the path we are following, of which we should all take heed.
Supporting Davies are Matt Doyle, Sean Patrick Higgins, Brian Lee Huynh, Timothy Sekk, Aleksander Varadian, Ashley Robinson, Jimmy Brooks, and Misha Osherovich, all of whom, playing multiple roles as Droogs, victims, and authority figures (both male and female), deliver the stylizations of language (with fine dialect coaching by Stephen Gabis) and movement (Davies serves as Fight Captain and Varadian as Dance Captain) with flawless precision. The top-notch production is enhanced by a minimalist design and a limited symbolic palette of black, white, and orange, with dramatic lighting by James Baggaley and costume coordination by Jennifer A. Jacob, that force us to focus on the chilling morality tale, its unsettling characters, and the direction in which we are headed.
Action To The Word has created an unforgettable rendition of Burgess’s classic, with a production that is sure to elicit a strong reaction from all who see it. You will either love A Clockwork Orange or hate it; I loved it.
Running Time: 90 minutes, without intermission.