George Orwell's son comes to Pittsburgh for Prime Stage's production of '1984'
March 2, 2017 12:00 AM
An undated image of George Orwell, author of "1984."
By Jill Cueni-Cohen
What would the late George Orwell say about what’s been happening in U.S. politics today and the renewed interest in his famous novel “1984”?
Speculation is futile, said the author’s son, Richard Blair, who was just 5 years old when “1984” was published in 1949. “But his great mantra was, ‘If freedom means anything, it is the right to say something that other people do not want to hear.’ It’s very true, and this is one of the problems of today.
Where: Prime Stage at New Hazlett Theater, North Side.
When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 2:30 p.m. Sundays, through March 12.
Tickets: $25-$30; $20-$25 seniors 63+; $12-$17 students under 18; $10 college student rush (one hour before show with ID); www.primestage.com or newhazletttheater.org.
More info: Afternoon Tea With Richard Blair, 1 p.m. Sunday, at the New Hazlett Theater prior to the 2:30 p.m. matinee, plus a post-show discussion. $50 all inclusive; www.primestage.com.
“Some people don’t want to hear about controversial subjects, and now you have college students protesting speakers if the speaker disagrees with what they want to say, rioting in an effort to persuade the authorities not to let them lecture,” he said, referring to the Milo Yiannopoulos protest at University of California, Berkeley, during a recent Skype interview from his home in the United Kingdom. “I think that’s a pretty sad world. If you disagree, argue in a cogent mannger. Otherwise, agree to disagree. But don’t protest with a brick in your hand. Shouting others down is not freedom.”
Mr. Blair, now 72, will be speaking and signing his father’s books at the Cranberry Barnes & Noble at noon Saturday. The free event precedes an 8 p.m. performance that day of “1984” by Prime Stage Theatre at the New Hazlett Theater on the North Side. The production, directed by Richard Keitel, previews Friday, opens Saturday and runs through March 12.
It’s just serendipity that the Prime Stage is performing the play at this time.
Wayne Brinda, Prime Stage’s co-founder and artistic director, recently marveled that it was two years ago when he decided to produce Orwell’s prescient novel for the nonprofit theater company’s 20th season of presenting stage plays based on literary works for people of all ages. In just the past month, sales of the novel that depicts a dystopian society where critical thought is suppressed under a totalitarian government have soared as many people believe it eerily mirrors today’s political landscape.
“My timing couldn’t have been better,” Mr. Brinda said, noting that his idea to invite Mr. Blair — George Orwell’s real name was Eric Arthur Blair — came about when he learned of the Orwell Society.
“Richard Blair’s work with the Orwell Society in England is amazing. He’s not just maintaining the legacy of his father, he’s also working with school kids and providing an educational component.”
The society was founded in 2010 after a memoir by a childhood friend about Orwell’s early years was updated and spurred new interest in the famed author.
Upon receiving Mr. Brinda’s invitation, Mr. Blair said, “I was intrigued being invited and thought, well, why not?
“I’m very much looking forward to visiting Pittsburgh and seeing what an American production of ‘1984’ would be like. We’ve had several productions in the UK, and they all go extremely well. In fact, the last one was remarkably successful and is going to Australia.”
Orwell never visited the U.S. He died in 1950, shortly after the novel was published.
Mr. Brinda approached Jennifer Wilkinson-Daniel, the community business development manager at the Cranberry Barnes & Noble, about a book signing before the play, and she jumped at the opportunity.
“It’s an absolute honor to have him here,” she said, noting that sales of Orwell books have risen sharply in the past few weeks, and the store anticipates a large turnout. “We have quite a few copies of [Orwell] books on hand, and we can accommodate hundreds of people here. We’ve done it before, and we’re ready for it.”
A percentage of book sales from the event will go toward the nonprofit Prime Stage.
Now retired from farming and tractor sales, Mr. Blair spends most of his time working with the Orwell Society, overseeing the Orwell awards and youth prizes for literature and journalism.
“The money that pays for those awards comes from the royalties of my father’s career. We use the awards to encourage youngsters to think for themselves and to write proper essays,” said Mr. Blair, hinting at further collaboration with Pittsburgh students.
“My father’s ideal was to make political writing into an art.”
Following the Barnes & Noble event, Mr. Blair will visit the theater to greet opening-night ticketholders at a pre-show VIP reception, lead a post-show discussion and attend an opening night reception. On Sunday, he will sign copies of his father’s books prior to the 2:30 p.m. matinee performance of the play, and afterward he’ll lead an audience discussion.
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