Weekend Theater Reviews 

Reviews of 1984, Not a Genuine Black Man and On the Verge, or the Geography of Yearning

Monday, Feb 27 2006

GO 1984 Michael Gene Sullivan’s adaptation of George Orwell’s dystopic satire about a totalitarian future strips away both the novel’s London setting and its specific critique of Stalinism, while updating the story’s sensibilities for the 21st century. Sullivan makes some obvious allusions to contemporary America’s war on terror but wisely avoids turning the evening into an op-ed page. The play begins toward the end of Orwell’s book, with Winston Smith (Brent Hinkley) already in the hands of the Thought Police, and from there flashes back in time to when Smith first fell in love with Julia (Kaili Hollister), a colleague in the Ministry of Truth, before joining an underground conspiracy aimed at the superstate led by Big Brother. Although chapters unfold, the stage is always the same: The ragged and bruised Smith is manacled to the floor of a black-painted interrogation room, disembodied voices ask questions and four Party Members (Hollister, Brian T. Finney, V.J. Foster and Steven M. Porter) alternately torment Smith and become characters in his confession. It makes for a swift (about 100 minutes’ running time) and effective retelling. Under Tim Robbins’ direction the action never slows, although, as a political fable, 1984 is more of an intellectual experience than a viscerally engaging work. Hinkley is sympathetic as Smith, while Keythe Farley turns in a brief but menacing portrayal of his suave confessor, O’Brien. Actors’ Gang at the Ivy Substation Theater, 9070 Venice Blvd., Culver City; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru April 8. (310) 838-4264. (Steven Mikulan)

GO NOT A GENUINE BLACK MAN Black comedian and talk radio DJ Brian Copeland grew up during the early 1970s in San Leandro, a white sundown town seething on the fringes of the ultra-liberal San Francisco Bay area. His coming-of-age monologue ticks off the ways San Leandro seemed more like a hamlet in Cobb County, Georgia, than a suburb 10 miles east of Berkeley. As an 8-year-old, he is picked up by a cop for carrying a baseball bat to a park near his home, is falsely accused of tossing a neighbor’s cat into a pool, and belongs to a family that almost immediately faces eviction on the grounds that it is “too large.” Copeland, who says he is often dismissed as not being an authentic African-American male (too articulate, too hard-working, too devoted to his family), is a likable figure and impersonates a retinue of family members and other characters. His memoir is most poignant when he asks why he is not considered “genuine” when black pimps, thugs and cheats are accorded folk status. It’s an unanswerable question. At 110 minutes, the show, directed by David Ford, feels rather long and is less successful when Copeland tries to weave in his adult struggle with depression, one that included a suicide attempt; this is territory that clearly needs to be explored in another show. The Hayworth, 2511 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru April 1. (213) 389-9860. (Steven Mikulan)

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