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May 20, 2011

A REVIEW: Clockwork Orange: Coming of Age

Roy Meachum

In the basement of the old Francis Scott Key Hotel, a true metamorphosis has taken place. After shaky starts, attention must be paid to the Maryland Ensemble Theatre for the professionalism of their productions.


At Saturday’s opening night, I found no fault to be faulted in Director Julie Herber’s version of Anthony Burgess’ “Clockwork Orange: A Play With Music.” Listed as director and costume designer, her formidable choreographic talent receives a showcase; her input into other behind-the-scenes aspects struck me as obvious.


The brilliant cast she worked with I have mainly never seen before. The actors turn in a truly ensemble performance, switching costumes and roles discriminately. Joe Jalette is significantly removed; he plays the narrator for this tale of the future gone very bad. Virtually in the middle of the 20th century, English Writer Burgess came up with a London ruled by the very violent who have no scruples about murder and rape. You should be warned: Sex of the unsavory premise permeates the evening.


My introduction to “Clockwork Orange” came through Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 film. Malcolm MacDowell savored Alex, and the author-invented vocabulary. On the other hand, Mr. Burgess did not like Director Kramer’s ending of the nasty guy after he was subjected to various scientific experiments to reform him; he came back shortly with the script currently running at Maryland Ensemble Theatre. The mostly Beethoven score fares very well at the hands of Thom Huenger, who in addition to handling the music, wrote the refrains that accompany the German composer’s score.


Coming back-to-back with “Boeing Boeing,” which he also directed, founder Tad Janes reached his goal nurtured since 1992. In his early efforts I was not impressed; even when he moved the company from the Cultural Arts almost nine years ago, there was an air of desperation about some productions.


It was if, the MET was daring and saying we’re doing what we want to do and this was art, no matter what anyone else thought. In response to that attitude, I occasionally sampled and went away. Some evenings worked very well except for the sound of a wooden nickel, either a miscast actor or misplaced gimmick. This season I went to half of the shows, for example; I really have no knowledge of how the other came off.


But you can bet the farm, I will be in my reviewer’s seat for next year’s opening nights; in particular David Mamet’s “American Buffalo,” which I last saw at Arena Stage with the distinguished Stacy Keach, at his prime; shortly after my life as a critic started. Sophocles “Antigone” is balanced immediately by what is listed as “The All new Grand Ole’ Hee Haw Hootenanny Hoe Down Jamboree,” that closes the season next May.


The year on the old hotel’s stage starts with Christopher Durang’s “Why Torture Is Wrong and the People Who Love them.” For Christmas, Jeff Goode’s twist on the holiday “The Eight: Reindeer Monologues.” And in January, “End Days” by playwright Deborah Zoe Laufer. Altogether, an intriguing mix. Season tickets are on sale now!


Of more immediacy, I hope I’ve piqued your fancy for “Clockwork Orange: A Play With Music.” But if you’re intrigued enough to buy seats, you should hurry. So far, the performances were sold out!



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