Seeing Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation of Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange is not much preparation for seeing the production now showing at the Onyx Theatre. Yes, the story is approximately the same, but there are so many differences it might be a new tale altogether. As Burgess wished and executed in his own post-Kubrick stage presentation of his novel, this production restores the novel’s original ending. However, this play also seems to bring together elements of several previously staged productions (some successful, others less so) with predictably mixed results. The updated costuming, musical numbers, gender-blind casting, and multimedia leave the audience dizzy trying to sort out the exact genre or mode of the play.
First, though, Carissa Berge deserves special praise for her portrayal of the violent youth, protagonist Alex. Not only does she convincingly play a male British hooligan, she handles the tricky Russo-Anglo slang of her Droog gang adeptly throughout. The rest of the cast also does an admirable job, especially considering the complexity of the production, tight quarters for a large cast, and—at least on opening night—unpredictable lighting, set, and sound.
The costume designer Kit Rogers should also be lauded for the updated take on Burgess’ near-future dystopian England. His Droog costumes instead of paying homage to the cod-pieces in the original book and film make them perfectly overt. Many times a stage production needs this level of in-your-face messaging, so the costumes serve this purpose well.
Although the energy and effort on all fronts are obvious, the production itself seems to lack a clear theme. When the cast bursts into song (with original compositions by Sandy Stein) or when the masked interpretive dancer comes onstage (“Dancer Spirit”), it can be jarring. The musical numbers are infrequent and sometimes sentimental in a way that seems inconsistent with the rest of the storyline. For instance Taylor Hanes’ number “She Will Not Return,” a song sung in homage to his character Alexander’s late wife, might be moving under different circumstances.
Whether these issues are to do with Burgess’s own disdain for Kubrick’s adaptation of his film or directorial indecisiveness is unclear. However, if you’re a fan of the novel or film it is also unclear whether you’d be delighted with the differences or confused as to the ultimate aesthetic purpose. It's a difficult production to stage and a difficult call to make.
ArtsVegas: Covering Las Vegas Art and culture since 2009.