A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (Luna): Commedia dell’arte meets post-modern morality play

Shamus Hunter McCarty and Alan Holmes in Luna’s A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (Photo credit: Aaron J. Oster)

Shamus Hunter McCarty and Alan Holmes in Luna’s A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (Photo credit: Aaron J. Oster)

Anthony Burgess’s acclaimed dystopian novel of 1962, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, has been the subject of multiple media adaptations, from Andy Warhol’s experimental underground film Vinyl of 1965, to Stanley Kubrick’s famed feature-length movie of 1971—after which Burgess wrote his own stage treatment—to subsequent musicals by German punk-rock band Die Toten Hosen and England’s Royal Shakespeare Company. But Luna Theater Company’s current interpretation is a unique marriage of the British author’s futuristic stylizations with disturbing a cappella songs with the historic conventions of masking and stock movement inspired by Italian commedia dell’arte. It’s a perfect match to tell the cutting-edge morality tale of teen ultra-violence and reform.

Director Gregory Scott Campbell retains Burgess’s original ending (changed in Kubrick’s film and in American editions of the book published prior to 1986), in which the antihero Alex achieves redemption through maturation (“Being young is a sort of sickness”), if not through the state’s questionable behavior-modification treatment. Under Campbell’s striking direction, Alan Holmes stakes his claim as an emerging talent to watch with his ferociously charismatic lead performance. Holmes’s Alex visually and emotionally transforms from sadistic sociopath, with accentuated commedia-style finger curls, to deprogrammed medical experiment, nauseated by the violence he formerly relished, to an adult who renounces his wanton youth and envisions his future as a productive non-violent member of society, while still leaving us with the chilling expectation that his future children will be even more destructive than he was.

Along with Holmes, Luna’s fine young ensemble masterfully conveys the juvenile delinquency, aggressive sexuality, and general amorality of Burgess’s “droogs” (from the Russian “friend”) with menacing theatricality. All fluently speak and sing their “Nadsat” dialect, making the odd fictional tongue readily comprehensible within the context of the script and through their expressive attitudes and forceful delivery. The supporting actors, each playing multiple roles, make numerous quick changes from their “droog” characters into the victims of their callous brutality and the government authorities who administer their punishment and criminal rehabilitation. Among them, Shamus Hunter McCarty performs one of the most authentic evocations of commedia-type choreography in a slick and startling scene of Alex’s reconditioning through aversion therapy and mind-control, and Kevin Rodden displays his especially strong, semi-operatic vocal skills with the haunting score (assistant musical direction by Josh Totora).

The “Droogs” at the Milkbar (l to r: Katie Gould, Shamus Hunter McCarty, Kevin Rodden, and Alan Holmes as Alex) in Luna Theater Company’s A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (Photo credit: Aaron J. Oster)

The “Droogs” at the Milkbar (l to r: Katie Gould, Shamus Hunter McCarty, Kevin Rodden, and Alan Holmes as Alex) in Luna Theater Company’s A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (Photo credit: Aaron J. Oster)

The artistic team’s designs effectively enhance the story’s dramatic vision. Andrew Cowles’ lighting and Millie Hiibel’s punk-style droog-wear create a darkness that is both actual and metaphorical, from which Campbell’s mostly black, mostly bare set does not distract. And Leslie Berkowitz’s dell’arte movement and Aaron Cromie’s disturbing masks and wigs underscore the strangely removed, unnatural violence that is as dehumanized and mechanical as the symbolic clockwork orange—an organic entity turned into a standardized machine.

Luna’s potent production—the first in its new permanent home at the Parish House of the Church of the Crucifixion at 8th and Bainbridge–reaffirms the status of A CLOCKWORK ORANGE as one of the best English-language novels of the 20th century. In the words of Alex, it’s all “horrorshow” (good) and “righty right.” October 19-November 9, 2013; lunatheater.org.

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About the author

Debra Miller

Debra holds a PhD in Art History from the University of Delaware and teaches at Rowan University, Glassboro, NJ. She is a judge for the Barrymore Awards for Excellence in Theatre, Philadelphia Arts and Culture Correspondent for Central Voice, and has served as a Commonwealth Speaker for the Pennsylvania Humanities Council and President of the Board of Directors of Da Vinci Art Alliance. Her publications include articles, books, and catalogues on Renaissance, Baroque, American, Pre-Columbian, and Contemporary Art, and feature articles on the Philadelphia theater scene.