Metro Weekly

Almost Like Clockwork

Scena's gung-ho production of ''A Clockwork Orange'' enhances your impression of Anthony Burgess's story

But this is not just The Chris Stinson Show. MacNamara has lined up a strong cast of 16 actors capable of being good and bad almost simultaneously, working to tease out the nuances in Burgess’s story. Mitchell Grant, Chris Aldrich and Armand Sindoni all serve as effective foils as Alex’s lead droogs, in addition to the various secondary roles each assumes. Every scene is also a little bit more amusing with Charlotte Akin in it, whether she’s squirming around in an itty-bitty costume as an older dancer at the Milk Bar club or portraying an impeccably suited, stiff-upper-lipped governor. Akin seems to be taking as much glee in her outlandish attire as costume designer Alisa Mandel obviously did in creating her spectacles. Another highlight is Michael Miyazaki as a pudgy but light-on-his-feet prison chaplain, who curses and blesses prisoners in the same breath. Miyazaki commendably takes great pain to keep his portrayal from veering into stereotype – which, as a result, makes it that much funnier.

Paul Gallagher also deserves credit for his stylized fight choreography, which makes you look forward to the violent scenes rather than flinch from them. Marianne Meadows, on the other hand, occasionally overdoes it with stage lighting – totally killing them here, randomly spotlighting them there – leaving viewers disoriented during a scene or two in which nothing of consequence happens.

Scena doesn’t employ a band for this production, instead relying on recordings directed by Gregory J. Watkins and sounds from Eric Trester, who keeps up a steady, ominous bass hum throughout many of the play’s nonmusical scenes.

By adapting his play to incorporate music, Burgess was also signaling that he wanted to be remembered as a composer. Before he wrote novels and plays, Burgess was a musical director in the British army. Beethoven, of course, is the patron saint of A Clockwork Orange – even the largely forgettable music Burgess composed for the play riffs off Ludwig van. As bombastic as it is, Beethoven’s music is generally thought in today’s world to be pleasing or, at least, positively stirring. But in A Clockwork Orange it’s nearly as intimidating and downright dangerous as the heaviest of heavy metal.

A Clockwork Orange
To Nov. 18
H Street Playhouse
1365 H St. NE
$25 to $30

Burgess called music a ”purer art” than writing because of its objective nature, and yet one of the things most interesting about his tale is how he twists music to become oppressive, even subjective. Beethoven is the fuel – along with drug-fortified milk at Milk Bar, natch – for Alex’s ”ultra-violence,” and it’s also the weapon used by the state in attempting to convert criminals like Alex to be good.

That’s in large part why Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange remains so troubling. Nothing is purely good in this world – not even classical music.

Doug Rule covers the arts, theater, music, food, nightlife and culture as contributing editor for Metro Weekly.