Anthony Burgess’ prophetic novel, about wayward youth living in a future filled with violent teen gangs and overbearing state control, gets a sturdy, thought-provoking production from Company of Angels. While it doesn’t achieve the visual savagery or vividness of Stanley Kubrick’s film, this stage adaptation by Burgess, first performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1986, is a powerful retelling of the story, with the emphasis on the moral dilemmas of a post-modern society.
Much of the appeal of the play, as of the film, is the literary inventiveness of Burgess, who developed an argot of the English-speaking future, replete with a hodge-podge of Cockney, Latinate, Russian and techno-tribal slang.
Through this technique, Burgess starkly illustrates that we are our language, and that both the violence and the poetry of the spoken word can mold our moral universe.
Teenage Alex (David Blanchard) govoreets with a couple of his droogs, but their nightly teenage escapade turns into theft, mugging and finally murder. His Mum (Pamela Walker) and Dad (Ed Trotta) are a mousy pair, and don’t have much to say about Alex’s shenanigans.
When he lands in police custody and then in jail, he manages to survive both the brutality of fellow prisoners and the moral exhortations of the jailhouse chaplain (Joe Medalis).
Only when he signs up for a behavior-modification program on the promise of immediate release does Alex come face-to-face with the consequences of his misspent youth.
In his final speech, which was not included in the Kubrick film, Alex simply proffers his regret for the misdeeds of his past. But, in an aside, he explains that he was young, after all, and implies that the young should have a few more freedoms than others.
Even the nihilistic mayhem of youth, Burgess argues, does not merit the profound loss of human freedom and individual choice represented by post-modern state control.
Production in this small theater is first-rate, with workmanlike, if not particularly soaring, performances. Direction by Ed Trotta is solid, although much ofthe emotional subtext is slighted, especially in perfs by secondary characters.
Blanchard is quite strong as Alex, bringing a vulnerability and visionary tenderness to the role. Medalis is wonderful as the chaplain, framing the moral issues for the play while injecting some much-needed humor.
While this adaptation is overlong at nearly three hours, it is a worthwhile evening, for Burgess cultists and noncultists alike.