Sept. 19, 2002



This 'Orange' leaves a sour taste


A quartet of thugs in distressed motocross gear circles a wobbly wino, canes and chains at the ready. After some obligatory grunting and scraping, the Carl Orff blares and the pulled-punch pummeling begins. Are we having fun yet?


So goes director Brad Mays' new staging of "A Clockwork Orange," in which dubious taste and lame fight choreography grapple with portentous cliches and wildly variable acting styles. Everyone loses in the bargain, but no one more so than author Anthony Burgess, whose 1962 novel raged with poisonous, double-edged irony at the excesses of both liberty and conformity.


Stanley Kubrick's icy, stylized 1971 film missed many of the novel's nuances, but Mays' muddled rendition is practically nuance-free. Video screens offer a makeshift phantasmagoria of snuff film, sweaty porn and X-rated anime; authority figures speechify about the sanctity of free will, as if the nihilistic violence of our unreliable protagonist, Alex, had no social dimension at all.


The production's only glimmer of interest is the unlikely casting of a young woman--boyish, spiky-haired V.C. Smith--as Alex. She's an impish punk sprite with a hypnotic presence, though her delivery occasionally trips up on Burgess' tongue-twisting Cockney/Russian dialect, and she has all the physical menace of a Pokemon. No surprise, then, that the show's best moments come in the essentially passive second act, as Alex's reconditioning into "goodness" unspools with a coolly mounting horror.


Still, as a vehicle for Burgess' ideas, let alone most of the talents assembled, this "Orange" is a lemon.

Rob Kendt


"A Clockwork Orange," Ark Theatre Company at the Whitefire Theatre, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks. Thursdays-Sundays, 8 p.m. Ends Oct. 26. $20. (323) 969-1707. Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes.