“A Clockwork Orange” may have outlived its power to shock, at least onstage.
That’s the case, anyway, with Scena’s quick and stylish but low-hemoglobin production at H Street Playhouse.
Anthony Burgess’s 1962 novel and Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 film adaptation can still raise goose bumps, pitting as they do in vividly surreal terms the prospect of uncontrolled youth violence suppressed by state-enforced mind control. Burgess’s 1987 stage adaptation of his book, as revived by Scena’s artistic director, Robert McNamara, seems more an exercise in style and ideas. It lacks the horror.
The play is not exactly a musical, but it contains many interludes set mostly to themes from Beethoven because Alex (Chris Stinson), the delinquent protagonist, loves the tunes of “Ludwig van” more than anything. The musical bits come off with uneven panache — a quartet singing an excerpt from the “Ode to Joy” in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony does well. When the full ensemble performs a few bars of anything, the results are less dependable.
The fight choreography by Paul Gallagher, on the other hand, comes off with a flourish but an unthreatening one, even though the scenes show Alex and his cohorts rumbling with another gang, mugging a married couple, sexually assaulting the man’s wife and murdering an old woman.
A punk more than a decade before punk became a cultural movement, Alex sports a thick, black sunburst of liner around one eye, setting him apart as the leader of his gang. They go about their anarchic business in pork-pie hats, T-shirts bearing Marxist slogans, and black pants, their duds perforated with metal buckles and pins (costumes are by Alisa Mandel). Burgess’s wonderful slang weds Cold War-inspired chunks of English and Russian with occasional bursts of Elizabethan-style chat.
Stinson’s verbally and physically nimble Alex seems brilliant. His quick-witted banter and his love of Beethoven might make a promising candidate for reformation, but in Burgess’s cautionary tale, the cure is more reprehensible than the disease. After Alex kills the old woman, he’s arrested and sent to prison. The minister of the interior (Buck O’Leary) wants to try a new “technique” on him — a form of aversion therapy that will render the juvenile thug unable to commit violence without experiencing extreme nausea. The prison governor (Charlotte Akin) has her doubts, and the prison priest (Michael Miyazaki), who drinks a lot but still talks sense, ponders the concept of enforced goodness vs. free will.
Horwitz is a freelance writer.
runs through Nov. 18 at H Street Playhouse, 1365 H St. NE. Tickets $15-$25. 703-683-2824 or www.hstreetplayhouse.com.