Morgan Picton, from left, Mark Alford, Gabriel McClelland, Maggie Ferguson Wagstaffe and Xander Layden star in Theater Artists Olympia’s production of “1984,” which opens this weekend at The Midnight Sun Performance Space, 113 Columbia St. NW, Olympia. Vanessa Postil Theater Artists Olympia
Morgan Picton, from left, Mark Alford, Gabriel McClelland, Maggie Ferguson Wagstaffe and Xander Layden star in Theater Artists Olympia’s production of “1984,” which opens this weekend at The Midnight Sun Performance Space, 113 Columbia St. NW, Olympia. Vanessa Postil Theater Artists Olympia

Arts & Culture

The themes of Orwell’s ‘1984’ resonate in today’s fractured society

Contributing writer

March 22, 2017 6:53 AM

Theater Artists Olympia’s “1984,” opening Friday (March 24), is something different for director Pug Bujeaud.

“As much as I love to do my art, this is not just art,” she said in a recent phone interview. “This is activism, and it has to be done.”

George Orwell’s 1949 novel — about a world where the Ministry of Truth falsifies records so the Party will seem to be infallible and where screens in every home stream constant propaganda and spy on citizens — is feeling relevant to many people.

It’s No. 2 on Amazon’s 2017 bestseller list, and on April 4, independent theaters across the country, including Olympia’s Capitol Theater, will screen the film version (made, appropriately enough, in 1984).

The surge in book sales began just after the inauguration — about the time Kellyanne Conway, an adviser to President Donald Trump, reframed the administration’s statements about attendance at the inauguration as “alternative facts” — Craig Burke, the publicity director at Penguin USA, told The New York Times.

That was when Bujeaud, Theater Artists’ artistic director, decided to tackle the play, choosing a 2006 adaptation by Michael Gene Sullivan. Bujeaud had seen the show in 2008, when the Actors’ Gang production, directed by Academy Award-winning actor Tim Robbins, stopped at The Washington Center for the Performing Arts.

As much as I love to do my art, this is not just art. This is activism, and it has to be done.

“1984” director Pug Bujeaud

Like Bujeaud, Robbins was drawn to direct the play because of its relevance.

“We’re interested in doing plays that have something to do with what’s going on in the world,” Robbins told the Olympian in 2008. “It’s important to revisit what Orwell was talking about, particularly regarding the way societies are set up and the way fear is used as a way to control the masses.”

Sullivan’s script is structured around the interrogation of Ministry of Truth employee Winston Smith (Gabriel McClelland), who sits in a torture chair as members of the Party (Mark Alford, Maggie Ferguson-Wagstaffe, Xander Layden, Morgan Picton and John Serembe) re-enact scenes from his past.

Despite moments of comic relief, it will be an intense evening of theater, and it’s been intense behind the scenes, too.

“Doing the homework and the study for the show was hard,” Bujeaud said. “Reading the book was appalling. I had forgotten, because I hadn’t read the book since high school. But it’s so much more valid than I even knew when I signed on to the project.

“There’s a passage about getting rid of words and making the language simpler with ‘double plus good,’ that sort of thing,” she said. “If you take the words away and you take the education away, eventually people won’t even be able to have conversations. They won’t even be able to have certain thoughts.

“That’s what’s so terrifying about ‘1984,’ and that’s what’s so resonant to me.”

1984

What: Theater Artists Olympia presents an adaptation of George Orwell’s dystopian classic book.

When: 8 p.m. Friday (March 24), Saturday, March 30-April 1, and April 6-8, and 2:30 p.m. April 2.

Where: The Midnight Sun Performance Space, 113 Columbia St. NW, Olympia.

Tickets: $12-$15; pay what you can for the March 30 performance.

Information: olytheater.com, artful.ly/theater-artists-olympia.

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