What if George Orwell, hot off the success of Animal Farm, partook in a book tour across post World War II America? In Orwell in America, now playing at 59E59 Theaters, Orwell is chaperoned throughout the United States by a young woman publicist whose job is to prevent Orwell from telling America that he is a proud socialist.
I suspect that even fans of Orwell and those who are particularly well informed about this period in history will find a new level of understanding about this era. Playwright Joe Sutton presents us with new layers of Orwell’s beliefs on socialism and shows how his most popular book at the time, Animal Farm, was perceived -- and often misinterpreted -- by his readers. Scenes that allow the actors to address the audience as though we were Orwell’s book tour audience are incorporated throughout the play. This added a wonderful theatrical element to the show, with lighter moments against the backdrop of what was often very serious conversation about the differences between socialism and communism.
Jamie Horton embodies Orwell exquisitely, bringing the author lovingly to life before our very eyes. It is clear he’s done his homework and research: His mannerisms and facial expressions never floundered and we were never left in any doubt that we were indeed experiencing Orwell before us. Jeanna De Waal is Carlotta Morrison, Orwell’s publicist. Morrison is an often delightful juxtaposition to Orwell’s strong and stubborn character; De Waal’s portrayal gives the character an innocent sweetness on the surface, but we quickly see past the blonde curls and society-imposed constraints to the intelligent and ambitious career-minded intellectual who is open-minded enough to engage with Orwell's ideas. Director Peter Hackett makes some wonderful choices, both in utilization of the stage space and in the way his actors express themselves through body language and physicality.
A well-rounded production that oozes charm and celebrates humor, Orwell in America is an absolute treat and not to be missed.