“A Clockwork Orange” runs through Jan. 6 at New World Stages. 340 W. 50th St., aclockworkorangeplay.com
Is this “A Clockwork Orange” or “Naked Boys Singing!”?
The all-male, self-indulgent and bizarre new stage version of Anthony Burgess’ 1962 dystopian novella opens with nine muscular, scantily clad young men performing dance choreography intended to suggest violent fighting and rough sexual activity, all to a soundtrack that mixes Beethoven with pop-rock selections, and mostly to the detriment of the source material.
Burgess’ novella is best known today for Stanley Kubrick’s innovative and disturbing 1971 film adaptation, in which Malcolm McDowell played the charismatic and twisted teen gang leader Alex DeLarge, who is subjected to brutal psychological conditioning exercises in an attempt to expeditiously turn him into a harmless model citizen.
This 90-minute production, directed by Alexandra Spencer-Jones, originated in London, went on to tour internationally and is receiving its New York premiere at the Off-Broadway New World Stages.
The production, which really ought to be staged in-the-round in a small black box, is instead being done on a traditional proscenium stage, with some onstage seating awkwardly added.
There is much to admire from a technical perspective, including the cast’s precise balletic movement (possibly in homage to “West Side Story”), their raw, predatory displays of behavior and their crisp recitation of street slang as if it were iambic pentameter.
But except for the imposing Jonno Davies (who, as Alex, morphs from an unforgiving, militant demeanor into pained helplessness and confusion), the other eight actors give one-note performances that are overly silly and exaggerated, especially when impersonating females. They also frequently switch characters, which can make the fast-paced storytelling hard to follow, especially when combined with the lack of scenic design.
Ideally, “A Clockwork Orange” should make you think about serious issues, including gratuitous teen violence and the conflict between free will and public safety.
Here, you instead wonder what is going on and whether there is any reasoning behind the self-conscious directorial choices.