DEAR DIARY O’Brien, avoiding Big Brother’s ever-watchful eye.

"War Is Peace" and "Freedom Is Slavery" were government slogans in George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, his dystopian fever dream. The book's dire message — whoever controls minds controls reality — is no less pertinent today. The Gamm is staging a chilling adaptation by British playwright Nick Lane, directed by Tony Estrella, through May 27.

Written in 1949, the year that the Chinese Communist Party took over the mainland, the novel shudders over the perils of lockstep totalitarian social control. Orwell was a democratic socialist as well as a journalist and novelist, and by no means an English version of a rabid American anti-Communist like Sen. Joseph McCarthy, who was frothing on this side of the pond at the time.

In the world of 1984, Big Brother is watching and the Thought Police are ready to punish any infraction, tangible or not. In fact, insubstantial "thoughtcrimes," such as asserting your individuality by falling in love, are especially undermining to this society, ruled by the Party, in which each person is supposed to subsume their needs to the collective population of the Oceania province Airstrip One (into which Britain and America have merged).

Poor Winston Smith (Jim O'Brien). His eventual romance with Julia (Georgia Cohen) doesn't stand a chance.

Smith works in the Ministry of Truth (appropriately known as the Minitrue). His job is to rewrite history, at least that which has been published in newspapers, so the official records about what happened agree with what the Party is now saying occurred. A wartime enemy of the past, such as Eurasia, can quickly become an ally, exchanging places with former friend East-asia. Constant war, especially if there are occasional bombings, means constant fear, which binds a nation in patriotic solidarity, with everyone praising Big Brother.

Smith has his job because he is an Outer Party member, not one of the poor (but far happier) Proles, nor one of the elite Inner Party. The trouble is, Smith is not a loyal party member. In fact, during each morning's routine "two-minute hate" against their current enemy, with everyone in blue jumpsuits waving fists, he is really shouting at his government. He even keeps a diary, which is a capital crime, scribbling invectives out of sight of his two-way telescreen, installed in every apartment, which frequently cautions: "Big Brother Is Watching."

Smith has his eye on a pretty young woman in his ministry, but since she wears the red sash of the Junior Anti-Sex League, at first he despises her. But when Julia slips a note in his hand declaring her affection, his emotions do a 180 and they begin a clandestine love affair, meeting in the apartment of a friendly prole antiques dealer, Charrington (Jed Hancock-Brainerd).

Filling out our understanding of the society are other minor characters, such as Syme (also Hancock-Brainerd), who is compiling a new official dictionary of Newspeak. He is trimming English of unnecessary words; for example, plusgood could stand for nuanced adjectives like wonderful and splendid. And there is Parsons (Richard Noble), a good-natured and undereducated neighbor who is the perfect Outer Party member, eventually reported to the Thought Police by his young daughter for muttering thoughtcrimes aloud in his sleep. With quiet charm, Noble also plays O'Brien, the dignified Inner Party member who befriends Smith after the latter suspects he might be a member of the Brotherhood, said to exist to oppose the Party. A sweet-voiced singing prole is one of Casey Seymour Kim's several supporting roles.

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  Topics: Theater , George Orwell, Tony Estrella, Jed Hancock-Brainerd,  More more >
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