Even before the election last November, Santa Fe Playhouse Artistic Director Vaughn Irving chose the lineup for the theater's 2017 season, leaning heavy on politics and controversy. One of his choices soon became uncomfortably appropriate. Welcome to 1984.

With the theatrical version of George Orwell's dystopian 1949 novel, the Santa Fe Playhouse presents the unnerving story that has again shot to the top of bestseller lists. Here, The Party rules, and love of anything but hate is a crime punishable by vaporization. If it sounds heavy, it is heavy. But presented live in the playhouse's intimate quarters, it is digestible, even for those sickened by current events.

When Winston (played beautifully, achingly, by Irving), a loyal Party member, meets Julia (a deft yet tender Tallis Rose), they realize that love is rebellion; emotion is terrifying yet necessary. They slowly break out of their walking-only-in-right-angles trappings, secretly marrying and moving in together. There, we meet the Landlady, brought to magnificent life by Libby King. She is boisterous and funny without being a caricature, reminding us that it is still possible to be human. Alternately, Hania Stocker as Comrade O'Brien affects an unsettling, breathy manner and ominous stooped posture—we, like Winston and Julia, don't know what to make of him in the best worst way.

Indeed, our own world grows a mite too Orwellian for comfort.
Indeed, our own world grows a mite too Orwellian for comfort. / Lynn Roylance

At the sold-out preview night, simple scenes of dialogue were most often brilliant. Glitchy projected videos from Freedom Hopkins broadcasted Big Brother’s message straight into our brains. But a few cluttered moments, mostly during scene changes, gave us pause. Was this too ambitious an undertaking for a small outfit?

No. That pause was brief. We trusted this cast, under direction of Robyn Rikoon, to lead us to an uncomfortable place. Ultimately, the audience is left unsettled by the play's content because it is delivered in a sturdy vessel, and we come willingly along to Room 101.

7:30 pm Thursday-Saturday April 6-8 and 13-15;
2 pm Sunday April 9 and 16. $15-$25.
Santa Fe Playhouse,
142 E De Vargas St.,


"What do you do when you don't know what to do next?"

This question, as posed by director Kent Kirkpatrick, is at the heart of Pie, the latest ensemble-produced performance from Theater Grottesco. It opens April 13 at the Adobe Rose Theatre.

The play was sparked by a quote from the astronomer Carl Sagan: "If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe."

So, what does that mean? The cast of four (John Flax, Danielle Louise Reddick, Tara Khozein and Apollo Garcia Orellana) has been trying to figure that out for two years, and Pie is the result. They play concrete characters—a geologist, an astrophysicist, an economist and a youth minister—in an increasingly non-concrete world in which the universe both dissolves and is re-created.

With less than 15 pages of dialogue, the script is short. The rest is movement and interaction. As humans become demigods and the setting shifts repeatedly, we see complex questions about existence brought to life in, hopefully, a relatable way.

"We all took themes from our lives and from the lives of the people around us that are very universal," Orellana explains. When told it still sounds pretty heady, Khozein offers: "If you were to describe a Looney Tunes cartoon, it would feel super cerebral. But it's not. Children can see it and adults can see it because it's done with comedy. We're using a lot of those techniques to take very complex ideas [and make them] read onstage."

Of an experimental theater performance about existence, I say: "I think a lot of people would be afraid to see something like this."

In response, the cast breaks into hearty laughter—not at the idea, but with the idea. Yes, an experimental creation of the universe done onstage with little speaking is intimidating. "But this is the one they should see," Flax says, "because this is the one that makes it all funny and clear."

At Grottesco's rehearsal space on the Southside, there are giant pieces of butcher paper on the wall with charts and graphs and storylines, the cast's guide to creating the universe. One square says "shitstorm poop ballet." Another simply reads, "BABY BOUNCE!" with energetic arrows pointing to other points of action.

Whatever this is going to be (and believe us, we don't really know), we are excited.

7 pm Thursday-Saturday, April 13-15, 20-22 and 27-29;
2 pm Sunday, April 16, 23 and 30. $12-$25.
Adobe Rose Theatre,
1213-B Parkway Drive,