Fourteenth Grade Players take on violent themes in ‘A Clockwork Orange’

As Alex and his droogs rush into the home of an unsuspecting couple, they tie up the husband and turn a pair of scissors on the wife, ripping off her pants.

Ben Wagner has been rehearsing this violent attack for weeks.

This is the climax of a pivotal, highly controversial scene in Fourteenth Grade Players’ production of “A Clockwork Orange.”

Media Credit: Bryan Hoechner | Hatchet photographer
The droogs break into the home of F. Alexander, played by sophomore Hunter Scott, and attack his wife, played by sophomore Emily Nichols.

Based on the 1963 dystopian novel by Anthony Burgess and the 1971 film by Stanley Kubrick, this production is directed by junior Carson Miller. The story chronicles the troubled life of Alex, played by Wagner, and his affinity for crime. He leads a gang of outcasts as they steal, fight, pillage and rape their way through the night.

In part one of the three-part saga, Alex leads the gang on a reign of terror one night as they steal a car, break in to a cottage and ultimately maul the young couple living there, assaulting the man and raping his wife.

The build up to the rape is acted out in full on stage, forcing Wagner to decide how to convincingly play a rapist.

“It’s a very perverted scene,” Wagner said.

He said he tries to keep himself sane by keeping it playful, but he adds that it’s pretty disturbing to participate in the scene.

“Every single time I do that [scene], I go behind stage and apologize profusely to Emily,” Wagner said.

Miller had to coach the actors in crafting a believable performance for the audience, while also considering the potential repercussions of their implied actions.

“Carson kept pushing us to be more animated and more, kind of menacing…and it sort of comes out of the blue. You don’t expect it. It’s right in the first 10 minutes,” Wagner said.

Sophomore Emily Nichols plays the rape victim.

Media Credit: Bryan Hoechner | Hatchet photographer
Alex, played by senior Ben Wagner, is caught by the police.

“This play is so twisted that you walk in thinking you have certain beliefs or opinions, but those kind of get changed throughout the show,” Nichols said.

Nichols said she understood that the matter is delicate, but knew it had to come off as real. If it didn’t seem genuine, Nichols explained, it could become offensive and mocking.

“Rape is the worst thing someone can do to me, to violate my mind and my body,” Nichols said.

Professor of theater Leslie Jacobson explains choosing the degree of violence included in a play depends on artistically what the playwright feels is necessary.

“A lot of theater has violence in it, because unfortunately, our society has a lot of violence in it,” Jacobson said.

Nichols says the male members of the cast had a difficult time with the scene. They apologized and gave her a light touch afterwards, anxious to make sure she was okay.

Miller said the scene “elicits such a powerful reaction,” but he said ultimately, he feels it is important to be faithful to the material.

In the end, he says the audience is left wondering what is wrong with themselves, because on some level, one can sympathize with Alex, despite his violent acts.

Associate Dean of Students Tim Miller said the group’s adviser spoke with the cast and crew about how they planned to present the controversial aspects of the play.

“The students made choices on their own regarding how best to represent the story, while still being appropriate for audiences and maintaining the integrity of the story,” Tim Miller said.

He says faculty did not have to make any requests of the students to change or edit the production.

Carson Miller said the show is about as far as they can go without breaking any decency laws.

“We’re definitely pushing the edge here,” Wagner said.

Melissa Turley contributed to this report.

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