“1984” runs at the Hudson Theatre through Oct. 8. 139-141 W. 44th St., revisedtruth.com.
Long before the term “alternative facts” was coined, George Orwell introduced the concept of “doublethink” (being able to accept contradictory facts) in his 1949 dystopian novel “1984.” And before Donald Trump made claims about the size of his inaugural crowd that contradicted photographic evidence, Winston Smith, protagonist of “1984,” was instructed that if the government says two plus two equals five, it must be so.
Almost 70 years after its initial publication, “1984” became a bestseller again after the recent presidential election. Even if today’s world is not a complete manifestation of the grim one conjured by Orwell, many of the troubling themes in “1984” (fake news, denial of reality, suppression of dissent, surveillance, riled-up fear, torture, permanent global warfare) have great resonance for people across the ideological spectrum today.
Those who don’t have time to pick up the book (or didn’t read it in high school) can check out the streamlined, multimedia-enhanced, unapologetically intense production (adapted and directed by Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan) on Broadway.
Set in a futuristic society run by a fascist, omnipresent government (represented by the imposing figure “Big Brother”), bottom-rung worker Winston Smith (Tom Sturridge, pensive and tormented) goes from expressing his reservations in a secret diary to sleeping with the fearless Julia (Olivia Wilde, making an assured Broadway debut) and confiding in O’Brien (Reed Birney), a superior who may be a resistance leader — or not.
Orwell’s narrative is followed, but the stage version has a nonlinear and unpredictable flow, with a library-like set that is used to suggest multiple settings, video projections, abrupt lighting changes and a mysterious group of people from a distant point in time who discuss Winston’s writing and his world.
Running about 101 minutes (in a nod to “room 101,” the novel’s chamber of horrors), this visceral and unpredictable staging is more exciting and effective than this summer’s other politically-oriented productions (including Robert Schenkkan’s prison drama “Building the Wall” and the Public Theater’s uneasily Trump-infused “Julius Caesar”).
In response to the graphic nature of “1984,” the producers announced on the eve of opening night that going forward, no one born after 2004 will be permitted to attend. Sorry kids.