2009 - An Orwellian Play

2009 - An Orwellian Play

It all began in 2008...

Beneath the weight of a weak dollar, growing war costs, soaring fuel prices, runaway inflation, and a Fall TV lineup of one reality show after another, the economy finally crumbles.

A Great Depression lingers over the land, with widespread unemployment and few opportunities for full-time positions offering decent benefits (unless you call 80% medical coverage once the $2,500 deductible is met, and two weeks vacation decent!). This economy forces many folks to sell their dining room set on eBay just to put food on the table ... except now, there is no dining room table on which to put the food ... the irony, huh?

The presidential elections are cancelled when the government announces that it doesn't even have enough funds in the Federal budget to print up ballots. With a constitutional crisis at hand, and no president elect to take command, the military is kind enough to step forward and assume complete control of the country, with its dictator, "Oh, Brother," as its absolute leader.

So, now it is the year 2009 ... late in the afternoon ... approaching evening along the East Coast, actually. It seems that Orwell was a quarter century off.

 

Act 1

The stage is dark.

With an electronic crackling the large plasma screen on the wall comes to life, casting awkward shadows about the small apartment. Brightening shafts of flickering light visit the dark recesses of the sparingly furnished dwelling. The dining room table and chairs are long gone, as is a sectional sofa, and the coffee table, and the end tables, and the love seat, and the state-of-the-art entertainment center. All that remain are a wooden chair with one leg shorter than the other three and an empty wooden crate marked "Government Cheese" standing on its side, serving as a small table.

Gradually, the image on the screen sharpens to reveal the visage of an attractive woman staring outward, deadpan at first, and then suddenly her face comes to life and her lips begin to form themselves into a forced smile of sorts (forced as if government censors are standing by just off screen). In a few seconds, her voice emerges from government-issued speakers on either side of the government-issued plasma screen, her words speaking into an empty room, with words not quite synchronized to the movements of her mouth, as if they are not her words at all.

"Good evening, friends," begins the newspeaker, wearing the traditional government-issued uniform, as well as government-issued lipstick and government-issued eyeliner (although her hair is by Chez Jacquee of 5th Avenue). "Welcome home after another rewarding day of work. Remember, your hard work keeps our nation strong ... and helps to destroy our evil enemies. Good job!"

Messages run along the lower portion of the screen, providing information with letters that emerge from the right side of the screen and which disappear off the left. The news of victorious battles fought by our military in distant lands against undisclosed enemy forces. The current prices of food and fuel, increased since the previous day. The titles of books now banned by the government. The location of rebel headquarters and coffeehouses raided and closed down. The names of "enemies of the state" that have been arrested and the names of those still at large. Oh, and up-to-the-minute sports scores, too!

Every few minutes, a series of musical notes emanate from the speakers on either side of the screen -- deep, low tones from the right side; light, airy tones from the left side. The two sets of tones combine into one solitary drone somewhere in the space between, a hypnotic sound that dulls the mind and which, according to underground rebels, renders the viewer more accepting of the "propaganda" from the newspeaker with the unsynchronized lips and wearing the government-issued uniform and lipstick and eyeliner. The drone sounds sort of like this:

Ommmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm...

Ommmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm...

Ommmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm...

Ommmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm...

Ommmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm...

 

I'm sorry, what was I saying? Ah, yes, getting back to the play...

From outside the room the sound of footsteps is heard shuffling down the hallway. The footsteps stop before the door, followed by the sound of a key turning in the lock. The door to the apartment swings open, throwing a drab yellow light from the hallway into the flickering room.

A tired looking, gray clad, middle-aged woman steps through the threshold carrying a small paper bag. Her face appears as gray as her clothing. And yet, there is a beauty to her, albeit a beauty that is muted by the oppressive society in which she now finds herself and by the filth of the factory in which she has worked over the last ten hours (with just an hour off for lunch and two 15-minute breaks ... oh, and in the afternoon the workers all stopped for cake and coffee to celebrate a fellow co-worker's birthday).

She closes the door, and then closes her eyes, standing for a moment on the other side to allow the dust of the day to fall away. The small bag begins to slip from her relaxed arm. Instinctively, her muscles clench, and the bag containing her evening meal is held fast. She sighs. Almost smiles. And then she hears the voice from the speakers. That familiar voice...

"Good evening, friends. Welcome home after another rewarding day of work ..." says the woman on the plasma screen, a message she repeats at two-minute intervals throughout the hour as workers throughout the city arrive home to their respective apartments.

 

Stay tuned for Act 2 in which the main character opens the small paper bag to reveal its contents ... oh, what the heck, it's just a pear and a can of tomato soup!

Jack Sheedy

 

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