MSU’s 1984 is an unsatisfactory show of ideas

Overly thought-provoking plot leaves audience confused

The play “1984” is based on the renowned book by George Orwell on a totalitarian land in which the government works to change the way people think by eliminating the people who work against or think differently than the dictator.

The government employs tactics such as creating a language called “newspeak” in which no one is able to say anything against the government because the words used to voice any opinion other than the governments have been omitted.

The book is a thought-provoking and heart-wrenching read. The play adaptation at Minnesota State University, Mankato worked hard to demonstrate the same ideas as the book, but the show was confusing and did not completely succeed.

“1984” is about a man, Winston, working for the outer party to support their dictator “Big Brother,” who is “always watching.” Winston’s job is to take the names of people who have been executed for their doubts of “Big Brother” and erase them from all of history. Winston walks into work one day and notices his colleague missing. His colleague is now an “un-person,” incinerated for his “thought-crimes” against the government. Winston must begin omitting his colleague from history.

The play did an unsatisfactory job trying to display the ideas of “un-person,” “newspeak” and “thought-crimes.” It wasn’t until after the show when I did more research on the novel and the adaptation that I was able to put together what everything meant.

The plot of “1984” is hard to portray as it has many twists and turns but could have been done better.
Winston falls in love with a colleague named Julia. They both realize that neither of them supports the tyrannical government and begin to work against it. They work to buy a house together, which is a dangerous thing to do in this society. Though they worry they will be caught, they continue to fight for the life they want to live.

The first act ends with a giant light fixture falling from the ceiling as Winston and Julia are dragged away after learning that they have been watched by the government on telecasters the whole time.

I might add that this same light fixture adds nothing to the scene and is never used. At first, I thought it was an actual light falling from the set until I saw the wires attached to it. It was odd.

Following the end of act one were the torture scenes. In the scenes, Winston is being electrocuted, stabbed, starved, deprived of sleep and threatened with rats.

All of these things were executed in an awkward manner and did not add anything to the show other than a slight discomfort from the poor execution of the scene. It almost felt unnecessary.

The show ends with Winston and Julia, each having betrayed each other, being added back into society after months of torture.

They act different, love their dictator, and watch telecasts of war in their spare time. I didn’t realize the play was over until all of the actors stopped and began bowing.

The costuming in the show is bland and basic because the cast is meant to all look the same in jumpsuits with numbers on them. This made it a bit hard to tell characters apart when they came on stage in the same or similar costume playing different roles.

It was particularly difficult when a government worker who had just been handing out work assignments a couple scenes prior came on stage playing a child, and the only distinguishing way to tell that she was playing a child was through the actress’ voice. The audience was incredibly confused.

The one thing that I thought was executed perfectly in the show was the role of “Landlady,” played by Delaney Rietveld. Her work was truly captivating. Rietveld had fun with her part, took some acting risks, made them work and kept the show interesting. Rietveld was the best part of the show in my view.

The show attempted to emulate the greatness of one of the most well-written stories of all time, but it was not perfect. The show was confusing, lost its message, and didn’t display the plot well. Even those familiar with the book found the show hard to follow. It was abrupt, choppy and seemingly random.

Despite its imperfections, it was done at the perfect time in which our society has been questioning the government, the news, and the media.

“1984,” has one more weekend of shows left, which will be Feb. 7-11. Tickets are $11 for students of MNSU, $14 for large groups and seniors and $16 for the regular admission price. “1984” is being shown at the Andreas Theatre in the Earley Center for Performing Arts.

Katie Leibel

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