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‘Clockwork Orange’ play looks terrific, but story’s core is missing

Anthony Burgess’ 1962 "A Clockwork Orange" – a futuristic adventure about a young, lower-class British punk (Alex) and his pack-mates who love Beethoven as much as torture and killing – was considered by some at the time of release to be a rare bird: one of the few "books of legal porn" that eventually gained a reputation as a great novel.

(Henry Miller must have been envious.)

The simplicity of Burgess’ narrative is in amusing contrast to the horrible deeds being described. The governmental powers that try to "cure" Alex by making his brain physically repulsed by violence wind up robbing him of his free will. Whether or not the therapy is a success is up for debate.

Burgess later wrote a stage adaptation titled "A Clockwork Orange: A Play with Music," which is currently being given a mixed-bag mounting at the Onyx by newly-formed QaudraNine Productions.

The most obvious quandary with this material is how to present for your viewing enjoyment so many beatings without numbing an audience. Burgess’ script (and Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 film) leave out such atrocities as the raping of two 10-year-old girls, and it’s little wonder.

We may be able to stomach reading about sexually abused kids, but how many of us actually want to see it?

Director Brandon Alan McClenahan nearly finds a solution by stylizing most of the action. He wisely distances us from the mayhem.

McClenahan’s stately, majestic pacing and stunningly grotesque visuals create a fascinating world that is both McClenahan and Burgess’.

But while this enormously gifted director is already a master of style, he’s not yet a master of soul. Missing is the story’s core – Alex’s journey from delinquent to "normal." McClenahan’s decision to cast a woman (Carissa Berge) in the lead role goes against the play’s psychology.

Worse, we can’t make heads or tail of what Berge is thinking. She speaks in the same, detached, one-pitched manner throughout. More bizarre is that just about every character speaks likewise.

Why, for example, is Alex’s cruel mother played as a cartoon twit? Why is an innocent murder victim portrayed like a Tina Fey sketch? (Curious, too, that in the woman’s murder scene we never get the feeling that a home has been invaded.) Where are the human beings?

McClenahan and Jake Copenhaver’s lights contribute a cold, Teutonic effect. Kit Rogers comes up with some marvelous inventions of color (she makes great use of reds and blacks). But I think it’s time we put a moratorium on explicit representations of male genitalia. (I wonder why local directors think that’s so funny.)

Garry Lunn, though, is a breath of fresh air as a chaplain given to maniacal sermons, whiskey, and public masturbation. He achieves the exaggerated tone McClenahan was apparently striving for while still attending to genuine character.

But scene after scene shows a director carried away by concept. Every moment of this production looks terrific.

But looking terrific is only a first step.

Anthony Del Valle can be reached at vegastheaterchat @aol.com. You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.

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