Jonno Davies and the cast of ‘A Clockwork Orange.’ (Photo: Caitlin McNaney via The Broadway Blog.)
By Matthew Wexler
It may be difficult to fully appreciate director Alexandra Spencer-Jones’ muscular and dynamic stage production of A Clockwork Orange, now playing at New World Stages through January 6, 2018) without understanding the context of the source material by British author Anthony Burgess. Published in 1962, the novella was later made into a film directed by Stanley Kubrick starring Malcolm McDowell.
Born in Manchester in 1917, both Burgess’s mother and sister died of the flu epidemic by the time he was a year old—this lack of maternal influence is reflected in central character Alex deLarge (Jonno Davies) as he and his gang of ruffians wreak havoc in a dystopian society where violence is the norm.
Incarcerated for the burglary and assault of an elderly woman, Alex is then chosen for an experimental rehabilitation treatment, which includes aversion therapy where he’s medicated and conditioned to have an adverse reaction when exposed to violence. Released back into society, he discovers that his parents have rented his room and all but forgotten about him. Alex eventually ends up attempting suicide, his former gang employed by the police.
Jones originally developed the work in London, where it was presented by Action to the World and also starred Davies, who anchors the piece with maniacal precision and vulnerability. Buff like a Chippendales dancer and with occasionally similar moves, Jones and his equally sexually charged all-male ensemble deftly move their way through Jones’ physical staging.
Aided by a throbbing score of popular and classical music as well as original compositions by Glenn Gregory and Berenice Scott, A Clockwork Orange sits at a high decibel level that might make some squirm. Davies is best at dialing back but others in the ensemble subscribe to “more is more” with fire and brimstone delivery that occasionally undermines the script. That being said, as a whole, the multicultural cast takes on a slew of characters with deft clarity and physicalization. The narrative can get lost amid thick Mancunian accents expertly expressed with the aid of dialect coach Stephen Gabis and those without a modest understanding of the source material might find themselves lost in the action.
Timing is everything, and A Clockwork Orange’s Off Broadway arrival isn’t a far cry from today’s headlines. Those seeking escapism might find the production unsettling, but if you subscribe to the idea that art imitates life, the following line of dialogue, spoken to Alex as he confronts a survivor of one of his vicious attacks, resonates deeply:
All the same. Police and criminals. Terrorists, freedom fighters. All the same. Violence is sewn into our fabric.
The news—inundated with reports of senseless violence — is not dystopian. It is reality. A Clockwork Orange, amid its heightened language and sweeping movement, is a cautionary tale of how we’ve lost sight of our humanity. But Alex leaves us with a glimmer of hope. An inkling that at our core, we are good:
Tomorrow is all sweet flowers and the turning vonny earth, like a juicy orange in the gigantic rookers of bog. And maybe there’s like, hope. And there’s the stars and old Luna up there and your old droog Alex, growing up.
A Clockwork Orange
New World Stages
340 West 50th Street
Through January 6, 2018
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Matthew Wexler is The Broadway Blog’s editor. Follow him on Twitter at @wexlerwrites.