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The Actors Gang brings back "1984." Tim Robbins: "still needed in 2012."

February 17, 2012, Mohn Broadcast Center. Off-Ramp host John Rabe (left) is only slightly shorter than actor and director Tim Robbins.
February 17, 2012, Mohn Broadcast Center. Off-Ramp host John Rabe (left) is only slightly shorter than actor and director Tim Robbins.
Kevin Ferguson

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To mark its 30th anniversary, The Actors Gang is bringing back its production of George Orwell's "1984," which has been touring the world and is soon to open in South America. Here in SoCal, the play is in previews in Culver City this weekend, with opening night Saturday, February 25. Off-Ramp host John Rabe talks with Actors Gang founder Tim Robbins, the actor and director.

The play is adapted from Orwell’s dystopian novel, which centers on a society submissive to a “Big Brother” persona that condemns all individuality. Orwell presents political issues in the book with stark clarity, and Robbins said the commentary is relevant today.

“On New Year’s Eve, our president signed into legislation an authorization act that allows the military to hold and arrest without charge, American citizens, and that’s the first time in American history that’s happened,” Robbins said. “I have a lot more faith in this administration than in previous administrations to not abuse the law, but at the same time, this administration won’t be in office forever, and if the law is in place, it’s potentially a dangerous thing.”

Aside from politics, Robbins said the play’s narrative encompasses other issues more strongly, like love.

“It’s about the rebellion of love, the idea that the biggest defiance that Winston Smith is guilty of has to do with his love for another woman, and his insistence in living a free life within that romance,” he explained. “For me, that’s always what’s been the driving force behind the play and behind the novel, this idea that in the midst of dystopia, you can be free, if you choose to live your life in a certain way and service the urges and impulses that are within you that are true.”

According to Robbins, his acting troupe approached the play without trying to assign the stereotypical grey-walled, dull aesthetics many attribute to dystopias, instead looking past what’s tangible.

“What if a dystopia was bright and cheerful, and full of nice LED lights and pop songs?” he suggested. “Dystopia is about philosophy, and more importantly, the public’s acceptance of that philosophy.”

Robbins recalled a passage where everyone stands around a television-like screen for a “three-minute hate” session, and the characters literally hate something for three minutes.

“I realized that I was doing that, but not three minutes — I was doing that two hours a day, and it was even with people that I agreed with. I was coming out of those two hours watching television so angry, and so I had a sudden revelation a couple years ago. You know what? I haven’t listened to an album from beginning to end for about three years? What the hell is going on?” he continued. “I don’t need to check in everyday, I need to feel something every day. I need some art every day.”

(Next week in the Off-Ramp e-newsletter, we'll be giving away tickets to the production, so sign up right now!)