Monday, June 2, 2008

Meet George Orwell

I did just that, on Saturday night in the parish hall at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church. Actor Dudley Stone brought the writer to life in this engaging play by Mark Weston.

In the interest of full disclosure, let me first say Dudley is a friend, but that is not why I’m praising his performance. If I hadn’t felt it was first rate I just wouldn’t be writing anything.

Luckily I can celebrate his portrayal of George Orwell, presented as a staged reading to raise money for Holy Trinity’s soup kitchen renovation. I soon lost awareness of the script Dudley referred to because I was so caught up in the life story he was sharing.

He was blessed with good material to work with in Weston’s play, which has Orwell reflecting on his life from his childhood as a scholarship student shunned in English boarding schools, through the development of his writing career, with touching accounts of his personal life. The setting is a cottage on an island off the west coast of Scotland in 1948, a year and a half before Orwell’s death, at 47, of a neglected lung ailment.

Dudley had us in stitches as he had Orwell recounting his experience as a waiter in Paris, and we were moved by the telling of his wife’s death; several people in the audience gasped at the sadness and unexpectedness of that unfolding. Orwell’s account of visiting a mine in northern England and seeing the deplorable working conditions, the seeds for his socialist philosophy, was vividly recalled. As a writer, I also loved hearing Orwell talk about the inspiration for his works -- Animal Farm and 1984 the most memorable -- and his struggles to get published.

The evening raised more than $1,000 for Holy Trinity’s soup kitchen. The event was produced by Triangle Theatre Company, the parish’s resident company of which Dudley is founder and artistic director.

This 75-minute play, directed Saturday by Lorree True, has been performed to acclaim at the National Arts Club and The English Speaking Union in New York, as well as other locations, including Eton College (Orwell’s school), Trinity College, Oxford and the John Kennedy Memorial Library Theatre in Boston. It’s the first play about the celebrated English novelist and essayist famed for his lucid prose style and, for the most part, is in the writer’s own words. Besides his boarding school days, he reviews his life as an officer in the Royal Imperial Police in Burma, “down and out” days in London and Paris, and his experiences in the Spanish Civil War.

    Meet George Orwell will be performed again on Tuesday, Sept. 23, at 6:30 p.m. at the Mid-Manhattan Library on Fifth Avenue at 40th Street, across from the New York Public Library. A question and answer period will follow.

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