Tonight is the opening night of Theatre ‘d Art’s production of A Clockwork Orange — in which I am playing Alex’s mother and the orderly who straps him into the cinny contraption. Aside from the insane story, the insane in-your-face staging (we’re doing it promenade-style), and the insane insanity inherent in the piece itself…this has been a basic, not-insane lesson in storytelling for me.
At this point I have three experiences with the story of Alex DeLarge: book, movie, play.
Basic storyline (for those who may not know): Alex is a Beethoven-loving gang leader in a dystopian world dominated by troubled teenagers. One night his raping and pillaging goes too far and he kills a woman, is betrayed by his droogs, and is carted off to jail. He hears about this new psychological treatment created by this dude, Ludovico, which gets you out of jail faster and decides to participate in the treatment. The catch: he will get sick every time he is confronted with violence. He will be made “good,” but only because the doctors have mind-fucked him. As he tries to sort out his new life, the question becomes:
Is being good at the cost of personal choice bad?
To illustrate his point, Burgess created several scenes of crazed depravity at the opening of the story. And this depravity is what got me thinking about how certain elements in a story are told. The (what I’ll call) visceral-ness of A Clockwork Orange is revealed in a different way for each manifestation of the story. In each of the variations, there is an alteration in how some things are handled.
The reason these situations are handled differently for stage, screen, and page is because different mediums create different levels of visceral-ness. It seems painfully obvious. I’ve heard some people say movies can do some things better than books and vice versa…but I’d argue it’s not a matter of better or worse, just different. Throw in a third medium, like theatre, and there’s and additional round of elements that work differently. (Man, I feel like a need a thesaurus.)
However, adaptations can tell the same story with the same level of visceral-ness. You just have to adjust how the story is shown/told.
Sex with the Girls
In the movie version of Clockwork, Alex hits on a couple girls at the music library and they go home and have lots of sex — portrayed in a time lapse. Now, movies have an automatic ‘fourth wall’ built in. There’s some distance created by the screen. So how to make Alex’s Lots-o-Sex scene impactful to the audience?
The visceral element of the scene is inherent in the amount of nudity (totes nude, folks) and the time lapse element itself which indicates hours are passing and they just keep having sex in a variety of positions, attitudes, states of dress, etc. Not to mention how long the time lapse goes on….This scene is one of many used to show how jacked-up young Alex is.
However, Burgess didn’t have a time lapse available to him with just words. If a picture’s worth a thousand words, then a time lapse would probably be worth a gazillion and Clockwork would be more like a Proustian exploration of depravity and the reader would be so bored by the infinite descriptions he wouldn’t get to the hospital scenes until Volume 7. What does Burgess do to show how fucked up Alex is?
In the book, the girls are ten. Ten years old.
See what happened there? It took one sentence and a fragment and I bet you’re thinking: That’s fucked up. The reaction is from your gut. It’s visceral in its visceral-ness
The play doesn’t have that scene at all, and I bet I know why…so to illustrate, I’m going to talk about another scene:
The Rape Scene
I said before that movies have an inherent fourth wall, and generally plays do as well. However, while we understand Malcolm McDowell touched his co-stars and wore a penis mask on his face, we’re still protected by the screen.
In theatre, you’re watching a real live human touch another real live human right in front of you. The only protection is air.
Our production is even more intimate than that. In a promenade-style, you go to the action, it doesn’t come to you. When Alex rapes F.Alexander’s wife, he has her bent over a couch right in front of your face. In the end, the lights go off at the very crux of the moment — and the audience breathes a sigh of relief. The theatre doesn’t have to go as far to create a visceral reaction because it’s right there. If we cut the clothing off of our actress’s breasts and stripped her down like Kubrick’s movie, it would be far too much.
Going back to the Sex with the Girls scene — if a theatre did that, it would be too much. Plus, I think there are laws….
So, the next time you see a movie or a play based on a book and something’s different — just keep in mind that sometimes things get changed so the impact of the story is the most effective.
And here’s the trailer to Theatre ‘d Art’s production. Opens tonight! If you’re in Colorado Springs, we run this weekend, next weekend, and the weekend after.
Jenny writes dark fiction that her mother hates. Her stories and essays have appeared in Across the Margin, Pantheon, Shimmer, Black Denim Lit, Skive, and others. When she’s not writing her own stuff, she’s reading mysteries for Criminal Element. When she’s not writing fiction or reviews, she’s writing/directing/performing/designing plays at Springs Ensemble Theatre.