Blue Room goes wild in re-creation of A Clockwork Orange
If you want to get at what makes human-kind tick, you can’t be afraid to get a little dirty. In fact, sometimes, you gotta really jam your nose right up into the ass of humanity and probe those inner workings to figure stuff out.
And, oh boy, have the folks at the Blue Room Theatre been gettin’ dirty—very, very dirty. Last Saturday, a huge cast of brave actors threw themselves into the nastiness of a very wild and graphic (and nearly three-hour-long!) rendition of Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange.
I’ve been to a lot of plays in Chico over the past two decades, and never has a production been more deserving of the “for mature audiences only” disclaimer: Murder, gang rape, hardcore video porn, torture, sex with minors, full-frontal male and female nudity and even some probing and eating of fellow actors’ naked asses.
It basically comes across as a re-creation of Stanley Kubrick’s film version (though elements of the book and the various stage versions may be in the mix as well) and all the scenes of filth and fury therein, right down to the outfits, accents and signature scenes.
It is astonishing how completely the cast threw themselves into the fray, going wild in every scene while still nailing the complex dialogue peppered with Burgess’ invented Nadsat language. It’s noted in the program that co-directors Martin Chavira and Frank Bedene just got out of the actors’ way and enabled them to go nuts with the familiar cult classic, and they did go crazy. It was equal parts titillating and disturbing, and very shocking throughout.
The play opens with an approximation of the film’s opening tableau, with young Alex and his “droogs,” or friends/gang, sitting still in a milk bar staring blankly as the narrator (Chris Scott, aka “elder Alex,” onstage with a wireless mic) speaks his younger counterpart’s thoughts about what kind of trouble they might get themselves into that night.
And the play and Alex and the gang waste no time getting to the mayhem, as a series of fast-and-furious beatdowns ensue, culminating in a drive to the country (in the super-cool motorcar that pulls out from a raised backdrop—best prop of the year!) and a break-in and gang raping that spills into the audience.
The mayhem of act one begets the turnabout in act two, where it’s the government’s turn to get cruel via some aversion therapy inflicted on Alex’s brain. And, in the final act, after Alex is released back into a world of bad behavior (at all levels of society), we see whether the “treatment” worked or not.
Throughout the performance, the audience was enthusiastically along for the ride. It kind of felt like an exercise in ritual nostalgia—like going to The Rocky Horror Show—as we relived a shared memory. The best performances were by those who tickled those memories best with their portrayals—Stephen Carlson’s studied re-creation of young Alex; Brian Sampson as wild-eyed and vengeful wheelchair-bound widower, Mr. Alexander; Emerald Behrens as the defiant and doomed Catlady; and especially Eric Loeffler in his very committed role as the Monty Python-like Chief Guard (going where no man would go without protective gloves).
It wasn’t unlike how we now experience Kubrick’s film some 40 years later. We have been largely desensitized to the film’s graphic nature. After repeated viewings, the once-shocking naturally becomes less shocking, and the iconic characters of the cult classic become more “fun” than anything.
But, interestingly, while there is much fun to be had in this re-creation, this live-theater version also has the effect of once again rendering the sex and–especially–the violence shocking. Those since-watered-down components to the film/book are again brought to the fore. There is no nostalgia in seeing a real-life young woman being stripped and fake-raped in the aisle next your seat, and at the other end, it is pretty eye-opening and novel to see two sexy nurses get down and dirty on a Chico stage.
There were a few technical snags during this second performance of the run. The changeovers and blocking were rough in spots, and at times the (excellent) background music overwhelmed the actors voices—even that of the elder Alex, whose mic seemed to be peaking just on the edge of feeding back. Overall though, especially considering the scope of the production—25 actors playing multiple roles over three acts for three hours—things flowed well and will hopefully continue to smooth out as the run continues.