Northern Stage's Orwell To Open Off-Broadway
Rehearsals open to the public here this weekend
Northern Stage is off-Broadway bound with its production of Orwell in America, following a 2015 world premiere at the theater's White River Junction location. The play was written by Joe Sutton, directed by Peter Hackett, and starred Jamie Horton, all of whom are connected in various ways to Dartmouth's Theater Department. Horton will be reprising the role of Orwell in the New York City production, and will be joined by Broadway actor Jeanna de Waal. Four Dartmouth students (Jaclyn Pageau, Lela Gannon, Claire Feuille and Tess McGuinness) are working on the project here and in New York as part of their internships at Northern Stage.
The Upper Valley public is invited to attend rehearsals of Orwell in America (at no charge) at the Hopkins Center's Bentley Theater on September 29, 30, and October 1 at 7:30 P.M. The play will run at the 59E59 theater (that's both the name and the address) in New York from October 7 to 30, 2016. Below is my review of the play as originally presented in 2015, complete with a nostalgic photo of the concession booth at the old location in the Briggs Opera House. Ticket information for Orwell in New York City is available on Northern Stage's website.
Orwell in America, Premiere at Northern Stage, Briggs Opera House, March 2015
If George Orwell, also known as Eric Blair, were to read this commentary, he’d be on the hunt for clichés, overused phrases, and dull metaphors. His love for precise language, and the clarity of thinking it both reflects and requires, is one of the first things we learn about him in Northern Stage’s world premiere, Orwell in America. Oh, and that he is also searching for a wife.
In real life, George Orwell wrote the provocative novel Animal Farm. In this play, written by Joe Sutton and directed by Peter Hackett, Sutton imagines Orwell on an author tour in the mid-1940s United States to promote the book that had captivated his readers for its anti-communist stance. Much of the play is a battle between Orwell, who wants to use his celebrity to lecture his audience about the need for socialism, and Carlotta, the publicist, who fears the audience’s reaction to his leftist politics. Carlotta also wants to sell books, and to that end, tries with good humor and persistence to package her author. And Orwell, who can’t seem to grasp the simple notion that a speaker must know his listeners, seems to want Carlotta.
The first act throws both the political and the personal tensions into the air for the audience to inhale. The second act turns to other interesting questions, as Carlotta tries along with the rest of us to dissect Orwell’s motivation. In pondering what she sees as Orwell’s obsession with social justice and the “have-nots,” she asks, “Why does one person care and another doesn’t?” If Orwell cares so much, why his impatience, maybe even contempt, for the audience he is trying to persuade? What of the irony that the author of a book about totalitarianism can’t stomach being challenged about his beliefs?
While it is in fact a different era, the gender politics can’t be ignored. Orwell “wants” Carlotta but has his doubts about her being his publicist because she's a woman. He has trouble seeing her as his intellectual equal, and she accuses him of not hearing her. His need to enlighten her might be the modern dictionary definition of “mansplaining.”
I won’t steal from every other review of this play that has said that Dartmouth’s Jamie Horton was born to play this role, except to agree unreservedly. Allison Jean White is a patient and probing Carlotta who holds her corner of the stage against the frequent barrage from Horton’s Orwell. The other cast member, seventh-grader Trevor Siegel, delivers groceries and his lines admirably.
It is not often that one can see a world premiere of an inventive play without leaving the Upper Valley; it's reason enough to leave your armchair.
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