Underneath the Philosophy 101 nattering about freedom and responsibility, Anthony Burgess’ “A Clockwork Orange” has a heart of exuberant pulp. It makes sense that Defiant Theatre would select Burgess’ dystopian tale for their final production, given the company’s history of staging over-the-top spectacles. For the most part, it’s a good match. Director Chris Johnson, stage manager Christa Rolf, and scenic designer Robert Moore oversee a dizzying array of ingeniously realized locations, bringing the ultra-violent world of young Alex to life with a campy bravura; particularly memorable are the surreal dream sequences, featuring mysterious signs and enormous puppets. While the show blends audacity with faithfulness to Burgess’ story, two significant flaws keep it from being a complete triumph. The first is the ultra-violence: though some scenes are undeniably chilling, too much of it comes off as unconvincing stage violence, especially the early scenes of Alex and his criminal pack. Second, while Jarrett Sleeper plays Alex’s vulnerability beautifully once he’s undergone the Ludovico conditioning, he doesn’t quite pull off the Satanic charisma that Alex possesses in his criminal days. A vocally strained performance leaves Alex looking like a poseur—and O, my brothers, Alex in his youth is terribly for real. (John Beer)
“A Clockwork Orange” plays at the Storefront Theater, 66 East Randolph, (312)742-8497, throught October 16.