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Theatre B opens season with thought-provoking '1984'

Theatre B ensemble member Mik Reid plays the incarcerated Winston Smith, who is interrogated in a prison cell after officials find his personal diary. Chelsey Engelhard Ewen / The Arts Partnership 1 / 3
In the totalitarian state of ‘1984,’ keeping a personal diary is considered a ‘thought crime.’ Chelsey Engelhard Ewen / The Arts Partnership2 / 3
Party Members reenact the stories in Winston’s diary. Left to right: Taylor Schatz, Tim Larson, Jacob Hartje and Taylor Fay. Chelsey Engelhard Ewen / The Arts Partnership3 / 3

"Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them."

In a power-hungry world filled with "alternative facts," George Orwell's words from his dystopian "1984" novel feel eerily relevant.

Orwell's cautionary tale about the dangers of totalitarianism has stirred discussion in classrooms, coffee shops and living rooms during different political climates since he wrote the novel in 1948.

Current world affairs have revitalized similar discourse.

As a local theater company that specializes in timely productions that "invigorate civic conversation through intimate and transformative storytelling," Theatre B naturally decided to instigate further conversation with a theatrical adaptation of "1984."

Theatre B opens its 15th season with "1984" at 7:30 p.m. this Thursday at its new venue in the former Lincoln School gymnasium in Moorhead.

Written by Michael Gene Sullivan, the play follows Winston Smith, a middle-aged man who's been incarcerated for rebelling against the tyrannical government of Oceania after officials discover his personal diary.

Keeping a diary is considered a criminal offense to the totalitarian government because it's a form of individual expression, explains director David Wintersteen.

"In this play, the state controls society and the rights of the individual have been diminished in order to serve the state," Wintersteen says. "The political and economic system has been rigged by those in power so they can stay in power."

Party members force Winston to confess his other rebellious acts written in the diary, including relations with a woman named Julia, as they reenact the stories in front of him in his prison cell.

Soon the interrogators begin to see Winston's perspective and question the system themselves, much to the displeasure of Big Brother.

Wintersteen says the form of government in the dystopian state is purposely ambiguous to highlight the dangers of too little or too much authority in society.

" '1984' has aspects of what we'd see in a Maoist communist state, and it has strong similarities of the fascism that emerged in World War II that Orwell observed, as well as the crony capitalism that you'd see in a modern democratic state where the system is set up so that business and government are functioning together to serve the one percent," he says.

Because they're working with few props in a single interrogation cell, the six cast members perform what Wintersteen calls "rough theatre" to create places and events through imaginative storytelling.

"It's an interesting way to look at the script and embrace that theatricality to it," says actor Mik Reid, who portrays Winston.

Other cast members include Steve Poitras as the offstage booming voice called O'Brien and Tim Larson, Taylor Fay, Taylor Schatz and Jacob Hartje as Party Members.

Reid, who's been a Theatre B ensemble member since last year, says he's looking forward to bringing "1984" to the stage.

"A lot of people have heard the story and know a little about it, but they forget the details. They may not have known there's a romance involved or didn't get a big sense of why it's relevant," Reid says.

Wintersteen says the play posits an important message for audience members to ponder, regardless of their political stance.

"I think novels and plays like '1984' ask us as an audience to think about how we maintain and protect our freedoms so we don't get locked into one of these (totalitarian) systems," he says.

Reid hopes the play reminds audience members to stand up for what's right.

"Being quiet, being safe and not taking risks can be risks themselves. Not making a decision is a risk in itself," he says. "Standing up for what you believe in is an important thing for people to do. That's how you make change."

First Party Member (Tim Larson) reads stories from the diary in front of Winston (Mik Reid, right). Chelsey Engelhard Ewen

If You Go

What: Theatre B's production of "1984"

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays Oct. 12-28; 2 p.m. Oct. 15 and 22

Where: 215 10th St. N. in Moorhead

Tickets: Visit www.theatreb.org

This article is part of a content partnership with The Arts Partnership, a nonprofit organization cultivating the arts in Fargo, Moorhead and West Fargo. For more information, visit theartspartnership.net.

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