Garden Theater

Science fiction is the art of imaging a future, and then watching it come to pass. We still lack personal jet packs and domed cities, but Orwell’s post World War Two glimpse into the near future has largely come to pass, if a decade or two later than he posited. Winston Smith (Zealand) sits at his desk and thinks a treasonable thought: What if all this stuff he hears on the telescreen is wrong? Are we still at war with Oceana, or with East Asia? It seems to change periodically: we score major victories, but we never win the war. Winston decides to keep a diary, a treasonable offence but he feels a need. Where can he even save it? A chance encounter with Julia (Geng) hints of an underground resistance, and they agree to meet out in the country. A romance develops, and the pair find a supposedly safe room behind Cherrington’s (Ryan Lynch) antiques shop. Here they consume forbidden crackers and genuine coffee and plot, but it’s trap and soon they are in the hands of evil O’Brian (Steven Lima). Here Winston pays the ultimate price for his sins: death by rats.

The Garden always gives us one dark, unpleasant dream each season, and this one is a scorcher. Multiple camera monitors the audience as it drifts in, and the stage lighting hangs dim and mysterious. Dialog is delivered by TV screens, and we all watch the news and the propaganda just like we watch Fox and CNN. Zealand’s face is rarely seen clearly, he’s mysterious and scared but seems comfortable with Ms. Geng. A friend and a common cause can do that. Steve Lima’s O’Brien screens his evil well and we never see the full Angry Lima mode here. Instead, he leans towards the Sinister Lima, working more in the creepy zone than the violent zone. Julia is trickier to read; I know not to trust anyone in their world, but she seems to surf the risk in a world where risk equals death. Perhaps she is a little too eager to work against the system, as we discover. Lastly I’ll mention Tommy Keesling’s Parson. Just like a god soccer dad, he so proud of everything his kid does, up to and including turning him in for an imagined crime against the state. He’s the ultimate soccer dad, and the ultimate tool of the state. He’s happy to be tortured for his beliefs and agree with the official state position before, during and after torture.

The parallels with today’s politics are not coincidental and it’s time for this cautionary tale to take the stage again. The ending is quite brutal, and a few walkouts left as the climatic rat scene played out. Be warned: this may be a classic but the blood and violence it not tempered for delicate audience members. Go in knowing you’ll be shaken when you depart and remember: this is not Halloween horror nights.


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