The Westwood High School drama program’s fall production of “1984” is sure to stoke some conversation, and that’s just the way the cast would like it. The play tackles most of the same subject matter of the book on which it is based: George Orwell’s 1949 novel “Nineteen Eighty-Four.” While the book examined a dystopian future in its namesake year, the play moves the story further into the future, confronting some issues of the present day.
Senior Hannah Murphy plays the role of Winston – the novel’s central character and the link to the “future” – and believes doing this play at this time is important to the students.
“On the one hand, we don’t want to get political,” she said during a break from rehearsal, “But we live in a time where we’re questioning the role of government in our lives.”
A primary theme in the play is censorship, and while Murphy suggests it’s a bit exaggerated, she hopes it forces people to confront and talk about it. Senior Sammi Parizan also believes the play is a conversation-starter.
“There are already a lot more people talking about it than usual,” she said, “People are intrigued by its relevance.”
Students interviewed for this article say some teachers outside the drama program are encouraging their students to see the performance.
Bella Conary, who plays the role of O’Brien, says the show’s image of the future is one of the most interesting aspects of the play. She likes the idea of trying to imagine different ways in which the future can change based on the decisions made by those in power today. Drama teacher Jim Howard is credited with the vision of the show, which seniors describe as “impressive.”
“My aesthetic leans towards the odd, the different,” said Howard, “But the play is so well written. I like to put well written material in front of my students.”
Howard agrees the play’s relevance today is undeniable, but says the choice to stage it wasn’t at all political. He stresses that all political beliefs are welcome in his classes and on the stage.
“Truth is part of the dialogue today and part of the dialogue of the play,” Howard noted, “But there has long been a distrust of government by some. That has existed long before today.”
He said it is the role of educators to find compelling stories for students to perform and sometimes that means taking something from the past and setting it in the current day. While the play is timely and possibly controversial, it is, according to Howard, well told by his student cast.
“If it supports your beliefs, great,” Howard concluded, “And if it jams up against them, that’s good too.”
The play will open at 7:30 p.m. on November 1st, with two more shows at 2:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. on November 3rd. For tickets and more information, go to WestwoodStage.com.