First it was a book, then a classic film directed by Stanley Kubrick. Now, fresh off a hit run in London, "A Clockwork Orange" opened at New World Stages on Monday night. NY1 Theatre Critic Roma Torre filed the following review.
Anthony Burgess's classic 1962 dystopian novel "A Clockwork Orange" is still timely. His story about a violent gang leader who suffers the fate of forced conformity hits a nerve today as authoritarian control threatens our own existence. The theatrical adaptation, a big hit in London, makes a powerful statement, though it falls just short of a knockout.
As in the book and the masterful Kubrick film, it begins with an orgy of violence. Teenaged Alex and his "droogs," as he calls them, go on a rampage of sociopathic cruelty; raping, beating, and ultimately murdering their helpless victims.
Director Alexandra Spencer-Jones created a language of savagery in this stripped-down, stylized production that's as engrossing as it is disturbing. The actual language spoken by the young delinquents, as Burgess devised, is an odd mash-up of English and Russian, and the combined effect is weirdly seductive.
But after the initial shock of brutality, the rest of the play fails to produce the same heightened impact. And while the message is clear, the work lacks the emotional punch in the gut that Burgess intended.
When Alex is forced to sacrifice his free will, we should feel the tragic consequences. Instead, the storytelling in the play's latter half seems rushed and we're left rather disengaged.
Happily, however, the all-male cast, led by Jonno Davies as the Beethoven-loving Alex, is very strong, and the testosterone-laden performances on the New World Stages's intimate playing space are erotically chilling.
Davies, fresh from the London production, is phenomenal. So convincingly menacing is he, it is hard to believe this gifted actor goes home at night without planting his fist somewhere. His dead-eyed stare alone is impossible to shake.
A cautionary note: "A Clockwork Orange" is not for the faint of heart; the violence is unsettlingly graphic. But if you can handle it, I do recommend the work. If it doesn't match the brilliance of the book or film, it sounds the alarm that Burgess's fiction and our reality are not all that far apart.