When Anthony Burgess penned the novella A Clockwork Orange in 1962 he envisioned a future that is eerily prescient today. While most people consider Stanley Kubrick's 1971 film as the seminal interpretation, Burgess was displeased with the film, which disregarded his original, more optimistic, ending. In 1987, Burgess adapted his own story into a play that finally restored his long-lost "happy" ending. Those seeking a duplicate of the film would be wise to look elsewhere; the Clockwork play is an orange of a different color.
In many ways, this version is almost a musical, featuring sung lines and a vital score that almost becomes a character itself. But the play retains the graphic depiction of violence and mayhem among troubled youths, personified by the lead character, Alex (Seamus Dever). Alex spends his days causing mischief with his band of "droogs"—one of many slang words Burgess invented to create this hyper-real universe—including rape and murder. He is eventually caught and offered the chance to escape his confinement by way of a controversial procedure that makes all forms of violence physically sickening to the individual. The play raises important questions about whether an individual can and should be forced to be a functioning member of society, if the choice of being anything else is taken away.
As Alex, Dever wisely avoids mimicking the film performance of Malcolm McDowell and realistically portrays a frightening time bomb of a teenager. He is aided by a talented ensemble of 17 performers who play multiple roles. But the stars of this production are the amazing costumes by Pat Tonnema and the set design by James Eric. Discarding Kubrick's stark, clean version of the future, Tonnema has created colorful fashions that are both suitable for the characters and remarkably eye-catching. And Eric's set, which has to represent multiple locations, is a marvel of stairs and planks that create a jungle-gym atmosphere—and director Rick Sparks and the spry actors use its every inch. Also impressive is the flawless fight choreography by John Grantham.
Any faults of the production lie, oddly enough, with the script. Whereas the book and film used Alex's narration to place the audience inside his head, the play uses a straightforward narrative that makes it difficult to empathize with the sadistic youth. In addition, the upbeat ending feels forced and facile. If Burgess was attempting to suggest that troubled youths need to outgrow their transgressions on their own, one can only wonder: Is there truly a way to outgrow the impulse to rape and murder?
"Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange," presented by Greenway Arts Alliance at the Greenway Court Theatre, 544 N. Fairfax Ave., L.A. Thurs.-Sat. 8 p.m. Mar. 28-May 10. $20-24. (323) 655-4402.