When Santa Fe Playhouse’s artistic director Vaughn Irving selected the play “1984” for the 2016-2017 season, he had no idea that this science fiction novel by George Orwell about political tyranny, which was adapted as a play by Robert Owens, Wilton Hall Jr. and William Miles Jr. in 1963, would come front and center after the election.
Robyn Rikoon directs 15 cast members, including Irving, in the Santa Fe Playhouse’s production of “1984” that opens on March 30 and runs through April 16.
“My approach was to spend the first week of rehearsals talking with the actors about the play,” explains Rikoon, who has enjoyed a couple of small directorial gigs and is directing her first full-length production. “We asked ourselves about the parallels between the world in “1984” and our world and how we make the play personal to us. Our task has been big: to create a totalitarian scene on stage.”
“Nineteen Eighty-Four,” published in 1949 by Orwell, is set in a country with omnipresent government surveillance that’s immersed in constant war. The story’s protagonist, Winston Smith, works for the Ministry of Truth that is responsible for perpetuating propaganda and rewriting past newspaper articles so the historical record supports the party line. The Ministry of Truth also destroys all documents that don’t contain historical revisions, so no proof exists that the government is lying.
The society’s political tyranny is overseen by a party leader referred to as Big Brother. Smith secretly hates the party and dreams of rebelling against Big Brother. “When we thought about how we saw and wanted to portray Big Brother, we decided to be abstract and not focus on a person,” Rikoon adds.
To help the actors illustrate feelings and moments that are not part of the play’s text, Rikoon is utilizing sound, quite a few projections and special lighting. “A loudspeaker, which features the voices of two women and two men, has a prominent role in the play,” she says.
Although the three-act play calls for two intermissions, Rikoon is presenting it with only one break.