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Off-Broadway Theatre Review

A Clockwork Orange

Four Stars


Photo by Caitlin McNaney
Jonno Davies as Alex De-Large and the Cast of A Clockwork Orange
Jonno Davies as Alex De-Large
and the Cast of A Clockwork Orange

Review by Holli Harms
September 26, 2017

In Alexandra Spencer-Jones's intense and erotic production of A Clockwork Orange we are catapulted into the world of Alex and his droogs and their insatiable appetite for everything violent. The opening scenes, much like the book, are a barrage of beatings, rapes, and murder. All marvelously choreographed to the beat of 80’s and 90’s music and looking much like a Madonna video with perfect male physiques posing, pumping, grinding and smashing.

A Clockwork Orange, based on the critically-acclaimed book by Anthony Burgess, was immediately hailed as a masterpiece when it debuted in 1962. In it Burgess created a language merging Russian, English, made up words of rhyme and sound and reconfiguring them all into new speech. It is a sci-fi story set in a dystopian future where milk bars are the rage. Milk laced with drugs. It is the drugs that help to fuel the fire of destruction in the fifteen year old Alex (Jonno Davies making his New York debut with death defying intensity) and his friends. When he goes too far and breaks into an old woman’s home and rapes and beats her leading to her ultimate death, Alex’s droogs turn on their haughty leader beating him and leaving him for the police. He is taken into custody and sentenced to prison. There Alex is reduced to a number 6655321. The prison life is much the same as 6655321’s life outside of prison with beatings and rapes at the hands of both inmates and merciless guards. He is two years incarcerated when he kills a fellow convict and is then given the opportunity to be the first candidate for an experimental treatment called Ludovico’s Technique. It will, he is told, make him a decent and upstanding citizen in a mere two weeks. Two weeks and he is out of jail. Alex, of course, agrees to be the guinea pig.

The treatment is a form of brainwashing where Alex is forced to watch images from concentration camps, and other horrors that man inflicts on man while he is injected with drugs that cause severe nausea and headaches. Throughout this barrage of images his beloved Beethoven plays in the background. At the end of the two weeks Alex is unable to continue his violent ways. Any violence from him will trigger the nausea and headaches. And the same goes for any time he hears Beethoven. No longer a menace to society Alex is released from jail. What he quickly discovers is that this society of violence is now a menace to him. Incapable of defending himself he is now the one marked for trouncing. In an attempt to escape a life where he has become permanent prey, he chooses suicide by jumping out of a building. He survives his jump and miraculously rediscovers his appetite for destruction. However, now he is 18 and with free-will restored he chooses to become a responsible member of life, declaring his violent episodes were nothing but youth.

This all happens in “race against the clock” speed. Packing the story into 90 minutes on an intimate stage with an ensemble of excellent actors playing multiple characters - men and women. The play, as did the book, is making a comment on our tendency towards violence, and we watch the violence happening on stage at times feeling like we are rubbernecking a car accident causing our own internal traffic jam.

Not only is the cast made up of excellent actors, but their physical bodies are ripped and cut unbelievably. The cult of the body is also on display. Alex and his buddies love how they look. They are selfish, self-centered 15 year old boys. The costumes simple white and black t-shirts evoked in my mind the game of chess. A game who’s origins date back to 6th century India. It’s purpose to improve battle strategies. Battle. Alex and all of the characters who live in a Clockwork Orange are in a battle of survival. They are pawns and knights and Kings and Queens all fighting for their space on the board of life.

The site says not recommended for anyone under the age of 14, but I think it should be anyone under the age of 18. Truly, the beatings and rapes, though choreographed, are still extremely graphic and disturbing. I leave it to your discretion.

(Holli Harms)


What the popular press said...

"You won’t find a fitter, tighter, more fat-free group of actors than the one in Off-Broadway’s jacked-up “A Clockwork Orange.” Too bad this striking and elaborately choreographed show’s grip isn’t half as taut. For all of the in-your-face six-packs, the production is like a dad bod. Stylish, sure. Intimidating, not so much. And it should be."
Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News

"Right now at New World Stages, a risible British adaptation of A Clockwork Orange is doing a bit of the old ultraviolence to its audience. Put synth-rock Beethoven on the P.A., get some fit young men to do choreography that involves whipping off their tops, and you will probably please some people. But for those who do not hanker for Chippendales studs doing dance-rapes—quick, can we have a moratorium on dance-rapes?—this Orange is rancid and confused, another sad example of an adaptation missing the point of its source material."
Helen Shaw for Time Out New York

"The sheer energy of the performers as they go through their strenuous paces must be admired, and Davis, repeating his London stage success and making his U.S. theatrical debut, is so physically charismatic you can't take your eyes off him."
Frank Scheck for Hollywood Reporter

External links to full reviews from popular press...

New York Daily News - Time Out - Hollywood Reporter

Production Details
Venue: New World Stages
Genre: Drama
Previewed: Sep 2, 2017
Opened: Sep 25, 2017
Playwright: Anthony Burgess
Director: Alexandra Spencer-Jones

Synopsis: A Clockwork Orange lures audiences into a glass-edged, testosterone-filled underworld of a dystopian future. The explosive story of little Alex and his rebellious gang of Droogs is a ground-breaking classic of orgiastic ultra-violence and sexuality. As hauntingly relevant today as when Burgess' book first published in 1962, and when Stanley Kubrick's ground-breaking film caused a stir in 1971, A Clockwork Orange is an unapologetic celebration of the human condition.

Cast: Jonno Davies (Alex De-Large), Matt Doyle (Georgie), Sean Patrick Higgins (Dim), Brian Lee Huynh (Frank / Dr. Brodsky), Timothy Sekk (Chaplain / Deltoid), Aleksander Varadian (Marty / Warder), Ashley Robinson (Minister / Old Woman), Jimmy Brooks (F-Me Pumps / Governor) and Misha Osherovich (Pete)
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