Thanks to my public school system I was never made to read 1984, the classic dystopian novel by George Orwell. I was instead subjected to The Scarlet Letter and The Great Gatsby, neither of which I enjoyed at the time. I’ve heard of 1984 before but I never really knew anything beyond the basic concepts: society is crumbling, the government lies to us, and everyone is being watched. Perhaps had I read it in high school I’d be more of a skeptic today, or at least I’d have more interesting conspiracy theories. A better alternative than going back to high school to read it presented itself: 1984 is the first Bricolage Midnight Radio production for their season and it opened last weekend.
Like 1984, I’m aware of Bricolage’s Midnight Radio series but I hadn’t actually been to one before the other night. If you’re unfamiliar, the people at Bricolage take a story you know (Carrie, It’s a Wonderful Life) and perform it in the style of a radio production. The actors read from scripts and stand behind tables full of objects to provide sound effects like the Foley artists of old used to do. Bricolage commits to their show’s motif by decking out the front lobby with fun little stations. You could anonymously pin your biggest fear to the wall of fears or maybe listen to the “wire-tapped” phones and eavesdrop on some private conversations. There is also a “Hate Booth”, where audience members can record a minute-long rant about something they hate (yours truly may have done 50 seconds on vaping). The surveillance begins as soon as you enter the theater…or did it never stop?
Your program is presented in the style of a newspaper set in this fictional 1984. There are fun ads (“War: We’re always in one”), stories, and a large obituary section detailing the untimely demises of the cast and crew. It’s another wonderful little touch that is greatly appreciated. But while these things are whimsical and funny, don’t get the wrong idea: 1984 is in no way a comedy. There are a few light moments in it at the beginning but as protagonist Winston Smith continues his investigation against Big Brother and the “powers that be” things start to get really heavy. Whereas past Midnight Radio productions have been described to me as “hilarious”, 1984 strokes a different emotion: fear.
The cast is composed of five incredible performers, each of whom slide effortlessly into different characters and scenarios. Even though they are holding scripts the performers still give their all and create full characters, even out of the smallest of roles. A character can appear mysterious or intriguing simply by hearing one line, making you want to know this person before they “exit” (a.k.a. someone slams the little prop door). The show moves along at a swift pace, aided by three talented musicians (Jason Coll, Kira Bokalders, Will Teegarden) who provide an appropriately eerie soundtrack. Monitors act as Big Brother’s Telescreens on the set and provide images that tie into the physical location or emotional intensity of a scene. Even without sets or costumes the people at Bricolage construct clear scenes.
The climax leaves little doubt as to why this show was chosen around the Halloween season. (SPOILERS AHEAD) Winston finds himself imprisoned, and that’s uncomfortable. Winston is interrogated by someone he trusted, and that’s unnerving. Then Winston is tortured, and that’s absolutely terrifying. The music, the bold lighting, the images on the Telescreens, the pained shrieks coming from Winston, the calm voice of his torturer…it was uncomfortable to watch, in that very good way. I enjoyed my first Midnight Radio show, and would definitely recommend checking out 1984. I may read the novel now. Maybe next time Bricolage will do The Lord of the Flies and I’ll be more prepared.
Midnight Radio: 1984
Presented by Bricolage Production Company
Directed by Jeffrey Carpenter
Based on George Orwell’s 1984
Starring Brett Goodnack, Paul Guggenheimer, John Michnya, Sean “Shaggy” Sears, Sara Williams
The show runs Thursdays through Saturdays until Nov 14th. Tickets can be purchased here.
Performance Date: Thursday, October 29, 2015