1984, Theatre Entropy, at Live Bait Theater. Considering the meticulous construction of George Orwell's prophetic novel, it's hard to understand why writers Robert Owens, Wilton E. Hall Jr., and William A. Miles Jr. felt the need to invent a good half of this "adaptation." They've made protagonist Winston Smith--a broken, tubercular nebbish in the original--fit as a fiddle and scrubbed away all the putrid decay of Orwell's postnuclear-war London. While in the novel a fleeting look of disdain from Big Brother can banish any citizen to "vaporization," here Winston and his Ministry of Truth coworkers openly question--even criticize--the Party's policies in plain view of the telescreen. Winston doesn't even end up in Room 101 with a caged rat strapped to his face--it's under glass a few feet away.
A scriptful of Orwell Lite makes for a tepid evening. In its Chicago debut, Theatre Entropy adds hesitancy to toothlessness. Bo List's staging is clunky, scene changes are overlong, and the uneven cast don't jell into an ensemble. As Winston, Matt Andrew has an appealing everyman's blandness, and there's genuine chemistry between him and Carlye Pollack as his Party-hating lover, Julia. But if this company wants to "celebrate and scrutinize contemporary society," it'll have to start with stronger material.